Against all odds the Syrian Army has broken the years-long ISIS siege of Deir Ezzor and is now poised to re-establish government control over Syria's east. And for the first time since the start of the war, Middle East analysts are predicting that Assad will eventually consolidate control over much of the entire country.
Early on Tuesday Syrian state media announced the army's breaching of ISIS lines which had surrounded Deir Ezzor city for the first time in three years. Remarkably, a government zone of over 100,000 people, including an army detachment which had long been completely surrounded, survived the years long siege through Syrian, Russian, and U.N. airdrops.
The plight of pro-government civilians trapped and brutalized by ISIS in Deir Ezzor has been largely ignored by international media, even as civilian suffering in other parts of Syria was frequently highlighted. The eastern province's largest city actually came under initial siege by al-Qaeda's Nusra Front prior to Islamic State's expansion in the area.
Syrian troops of the Brigade 137 base, surrounded by ISIS since 2014, were reunited with advancing army soldiers after they successfully lifted the lengthy siege of Deir Ezzor Tuesday. Image source: Al-Masdar News
It appears that ISIS lines are quickly collapsing throughout the area, though like Mosul, it is likely that weeks or months of urban fighting could ensue in what will likely be a slow and grinding process of complete liberation and rooting out of the terrorist insurgency. The Syrian army issued a statement Tuesday, saying the operation marks "a strategic turn in the war against terrorism", and that once captured, Deir Ezzor will be used as a "launching pad to expand military operations in the region." Russia's Defense Ministry also confirmed direct assistance in the operation, saying that its warship in the Mediterranean fired cruise missiles and successfully destroyed various ISIS targets, including a communications and command center, and weapons depots. Russian media circulated images of the cruise missile strikes.
The Syrian Army's statement doesn't appear to be mere empty boasting or battlefield propaganda: for the first time since the war began over six years ago, notable experts are now predicting that the Syrian government will eventually regain its lost territory throughout most or all of the country. Early this week, for example, Middle East expert Joshua Landis predicted that, "Assad seems well on his way to consolidate power in Syria." Though Landis has been described by CNN and other major outlets as possibly the world's foremost expert on Syria, he's been a lone voice of realism over the past years even as other pundits made constant false predictions of Assad's "imminent downfall".
But as we've recently explained, the media itself has drastically changed its tune. Whereas the previous years' constant drumbeat of bellicose statements emanating from the West and repeat talk of "Assad must go" and "red lines" and constantly failed predictions that "regime demise is imminent," there now seems a general acceptance that the Syrian government has finally emerged victorious. Last week, The Guardian published a lengthy article which reads like a mournful postmortem quoting a who's who of figures previously involved in the push for their hoped-for but unrealized regime change. This comes as British media also reports that the last UK troops training opposition forces in Syria have pulled out as Britain quietly ends the program.
On this side of the Atlantic, Trump this summer ordered the closure of the CIA's regime change operations which targeted Assad. And it appears that even Gulf nations - lately embroiled in their own inter-GCC political civil war and airing of dirty laundry - have been forced to temper their rhetoric. Turkey also has reluctantly shifted its priorities in Syria after its well-known and documented regime change machinations - which included facilitating the transfer of tens of thousands of foreign jihadists (the core of which joined ISIS) across its southern border - have backfired. International media, in a reflection undeniable geopolitical realities, have bluntly headlined stories with "And the winner is: Assad" and "We have to accept that Assad will win in Syria" and "How Assad is Winning".
Another expert who goes by the name Ehsani and writes for the influential analysis blog, Syria Comment, obtained rare insider commentary from a senior Syrian government official concerning the lifting of the Deir Ezzor siege and its significance. Ehsani presents the comments as follows:
What a senior source in Damascus had to say about Deir Ezzor: The city had been under siege for 5 years - two under Nusra and three under ISIS. When Mosul fell, the Iraqi Army had almost 10 times the number of people that Syrian Army had in Deir Ezzor. Few predicted we can hold on. The Syrian Army presence resembled a small island surrounded by the black of ISIS. All we had was a total of 7,000 between police and soldiers. Of the 7,000 present, only 2,000 were truly professional soldiers. Many of these men didn't see their families for nearly 5 years. Real medical care was lacking. Leading officers who died had to be replaced several times. A total of 180,000 civilians were also under siege. The State had to provide the security for both citizens & troops. ISIS did not stop its attacks against us once throughout the 3 years. Every time the Iraqi army attacked ISIS, more of the group would move into Syria and their attacks against our troops would increase. Throughout this ordeal, the Syrian leadership did not even once contemplate or made any plans to abandon the city. Recall that US strike against our most important strategic position caused us to lose 10% of our troops stationed to defend the airport side. Roads to Deir Ezzor are now open from most Syrian cities. Citizens under control of terrorists and insurgents will soon all be freed. Deir Ezzor like all cities will come under one flag - the one with 2 stars under one national identity that is immune from fitna [discord] and strife. "Do I believe that the Syria of the future will surprise the world but this time in how we will rebuild & move on? Yes, of course I do."
Concurrently with news of the successful Deir Ezzor campaign, Syrians in government held cities broke out in mass celebrations as Syria's national soccer team advanced into qualifier playoffs in an unprecedented bid for World Cup entry after a dramatic and unexpected tie with Iran on Tuesday.
Syrian commentator breaks into tears after Omar Al-Somah's historic goal against Iran. Goosebumps. pic.twitter.com/MSUC2IBCD0— Mohamed Osama (@_DrOsama) September 5, 2017
The Syrian team had previously shocked the world by beating the better resourced Qataris, and will face Australia next month. For the first time in years in appears morale is high in the war-torn country as a degree of hope and normalcy begins to take root in many parts that have only known bloodshed and terrorism for the past half decade.