The Noose Around Syria's Assad Tightens

While Obama is currently under fire for stating at the recently concluded G-7 summit in Germany that the US "does not yet have a complete strategy" how to deal with ISIS, the reality as relates to the true US strategy, namely the ouster of Syria's president al Assad, could not be more different. Because while ISIS continues to deflect attention from what is really happening in the middle east, the noose around Syria's Assad is tightening one day at a time, with the latest blow coming overnight after Syrian "rebels", also supported by the US (and allowed to call in B-1B strikes), scored a major military victory capturing the second biggest Syrian army base in the south of the country, located in the city of Daraa near the border with Jordan, and just 100 km south of Damascus.

Reuters reports that Syrian rebels said they had captured a major base from the Syrian army in the south of the country on Tuesday, a setback that would increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad after his recent losses elsewhere.

"We announce the liberation of Liwa 52," Issam al-Rayyes, spokesman for the "Southern Front" alliance of mainstream rebel groups, told Reuters. Liwa 52, or the 52nd Brigade, is one of the biggest Syrian army bases in the area.

 

The southern region near the border with Jordan and Israel is one of the areas where insurgents have inflicted significant defeats on Assad in the last three months, notably the capture of the Nasib border crossing with Jordan on April 1.

 

Less than 100 km (60 miles) south of Damascus, the area is one of the last major footholds of mainstream rebels who have been eclipsed elsewhere in Syria by jihadist groups such as Islamic State and the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's Syrian arm.

 

Nusra and other hardline Islamist groups also have a presence in the south, including Ahrar al-Sham, which said it was involved in the attack.

 

The rebels had fired more than 100 missiles at the base during the attack, the opposition-affiliated Orient News TV station said.

 

The rebels have failed in previous attempts to capture the base.

Official Syrian sources quickly denied the military defeat, as expected, although when fighting a war on three fronts with enemies who have been directly (or indirectly) armed by the US, it is now only a matter of time:

The report earlier on Syrian state TV said the army had repelled an attempt by "a terrorist group" to infiltrate a military position. It said a number of the attackers had been killed and wounded, including a rebel commander. The air force was carrying out raids in the area, it added.

 

"The Southern Front" alliance has been coordinating operations against Assad from a joint command center in Jordan. They have received some support from foreign states that want to see Assad gone, including Gulf Arab governments.

 

"It is very important because it is the second biggest base the regime has (in the south)," said Saber Safar, a former army colonel whose "First Army" rebel group was one of a number of factions that said they took part. He spoke to Reuters via Skype in the early stages of the attack.

And speaking of time, the US-led alliance realizes very well that as long as Assad has to fight three fronts: i.e., the Nusra  Front in the northwestern province of Idlib and ever closer proximity to Syria's main infrastructure hub of Latakia, ISIS in the central part of the nation where they recently took over the historic town of Palmyra, and the official "rebel" force in proximity to Damascus, Assad's army will either eventually be obliterated or, more likely, mutiny and overthrow the president, putting the Ukraine scenario in play.

The setbacks for Assad have prompted Western policymakers to suggest a window of opportunity for a political deal may be opening in Syria.

 

But the defeats have also triggered renewed statements of support for Assad from Iran, whose backing has been crucial to his survival.

Which leave two key oustanding questions: i) what is the maximum pain level for Russia, which has the greatest vested in interest in preserving the Assad regime in place, and when does Putin finally get involved, and ii) how.