Sammy Ketz of Agence France Press says that Syria is about to throw in the towel. “Weakened by years of war, Syria’s government appears ready for the country’s de facto partition, defending strategically important areas and leaving much of the country to rebels and jihadis, experts and diplomats say.”
People close to the regime talk about a government retreat to “useful Syria.”
“The division of Syria is inevitable. The regime wants to control the coast, the two central cities of Hama and Homs and the capital Damascus,” one Syrian political figure close to the regime said.
“The red lines for the authorities are the Damascus-Beirut highway and the Damascus-Homs highway, as well as the coast, with cities like Latakia and Tartous,” the political figure added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The coastal Latakia and Tartous provinces are strongholds of the regime, and home to much of the country’s Alawite community, the sect of Assad.
Damascus still controls 50% of the country but 40% is in the hands of al-Qaeda/ISIS forces, with 10% going to the Kurds. The rebels have the momentum. The Mahgreb and Orient Courier has a map showing how much Assad’s perimeter, shown in pink, has shrunk in the last year. It’s obvious that the rebels can cut the Assad regime in two if it succeeds in thrusting over the mountains north of Damascus.
Assad’s fall can provide the Obama administration with a chance to claim its first victory in the region, if it can claim the laurels from the bloody hands of ISIS and its Sunni state allies. The strategic possibilities of a Assad’s defeat and the consequent humiliation of Iran were laid out in a Stratfor report in July, 2012. The collapse of the Damascus regime would be a victory of policy because Obama set out to topple Assad as he set out to topple Khadaffy.
“The United States, France and other European countries have opposed his regime,” Stratfor says, “Russia, China and Iran have supported it, each for different reasons.” The goal of China and Russia, according to Stratfor, was to encourage the US to bleed itself out trying to contain Iran. The goal of Iran was simply to expand. If Assad falls, China and Russia “lose” along with Iran.
The Russians and Chinese clearly understood that if this [Iranian expansion] had happened, the United States would have had an intense interest in undermining the Iranian sphere of influence — and would have had to devote massive resources to doing so. Russia and China benefitted greatly in the post-9/11 world, when the United States was obsessed with the Islamic world and had little interest or resources to devote to China and Russia. With the end of the Afghanistan war looming, this respite seemed likely to end. Underwriting Iranian hegemony over a region that would inevitably draw the United States’ attention was a low-cost, high-return strategy.
The Chinese primarily provided political cover, keeping the Russians from having to operate alone diplomatically. They devoted no resources to the Syrian conflict but did continue to oppose sanctions against Iran and provided trade opportunities for Iran. The Russians made a much larger commitment, providing material and political support to the al Assad regime.
But as Assad began to fold the wily Russians decided to cut their losses, leaving the Iranians holding the bag. Moscow slowly tiptoed toward the exit to await events. “It seems the Russians began calculating the end for the regime some time ago. Russia continued to deliver ammunition and other supplies to Syria but pulled back on a delivery of helicopters.” Putin has already crawled out from under the wreck.