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In Syria, No Winners, Only Losers

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Bashar Assad refuses (what a surprise...) to lose the war in Syria, proving that rumors about his death were somewhat premature. This blog has consistently predicted the final defeat of the besieged dictator, and there is no reason to change the prediction, though terms like "defeat" and "victory" require some clarification and updating, as well as another look at the time tables of all that.

The events of the last few days, particularly the fate of the city of Al-Qusayr, emphasize the point. Al-Qusayr is a relatively small town in western Syria, part of the governate of Homs, 15km from the Lebanese border, a town which assumed importance for three reasons; first, after being taken by the rebels, it became a main transit point for arms smuggled from Lebanon to the Syrian rebels; second, its location can interrupt the traffic from Damascus to the Alawite hinterland, the most important stronghold of the regime; and third, it has a mixed population, Sunni and Christian, so the dynamic of the inter-communal relations there enable us to have some perspective on the overall relations between the Sunni rebels and minority groups which have refrained from joining the anti-Assad rebellion. In fact, we already know now that the rebels mistreated the local Christians. Syria's official TV showed scenes of jubilation in Al-Qusayr following the defeat of the rebels, clearly indicating the sense of relief felt by the non-Sunnis there.

The Syrian regime decided to turn Al-Qusayr into a main arena of activities, and for the sake of "liberating" the city, the Alawites called upon Hezbollah to come to their help, and the Lebanese Shi'ites responded enthusiastically, so the organization whose stated raison d'etre is the resistance to Israel fought fellow Arabs in Syria, shed a lot of blood, that of his own soldiers [over 100 fatalities, hundreds injured and prisoners taken by the rebels] and that of Sunni Syrians, and finally, after weeks of fighting, managed to remove the rebels from the city itself, though they are still situated in close proximity and conduct a guerrilla struggle with lethal ambushes against the Hezbollah and Syrian soldiers.

The achievement in Al-Qusayr was hailed by both the Alawite regime and the Lebanese Shi'ites as a great, crucial "victory." It is not. Let us remember that thousands of Lebanese and Syrian fighters were needed to push the rebels from a relatively insignificant city. A repeat performance by the Syrian army and Hezbollah in other parts of Syria, if at all possible, will dramatically drain the resources of both of them. In the case of Hezbollah the "victory" in Al-Qusayr may prove to be a tactical advantage, but a strategic defeat, as now Hezballah lost the last vestige of any legitimate claim to be what they claimed about themselves, a Lebanese movement dedicated to the struggle against Israel, hence the need for it to maintain its armed wing, at a time when other political groups and religious communities in Lebanon were disarmed. Hezbollah is now the most feared and hated political/military organization in Lebanon, finally viewed as a Shi'ite militia in the service of Iran and Syria, and not a genuine Lebanese movement.

The result of all that will be to turn Lebanon into a zone of conflict, not yet a full-scale civil war, but not far from it either. Tripoli is already burning, Sidon witnessed yesterday armed clashes, the Syria rebels and their Lebanese supporters already attacked the Dahia [the Hezbollah stronghold in South Beirut], and Ba'albek in the Biq'a valley. In short, the Hezbollah may find out very soon, much to their chagrin, that the road to Palestine does not go via Al-Qusayr, rather it is the road from there to Beirut.

In the aftermath of the Al-Qusayr battle, both the Syrians and Hezbollah bragged about the "message" sent to the Zionists. Well, no Israeli has ever heard about Al-Qusayr until now, and for obvious reason, as nothing that happens there is of any significance to Israel. If at all, the Israelis will be happy to see many more a-la-Al-Qusayr battles, as such fighting greatly weakens both the Syrian Army and Hezbollah, two forces which claim to be dedicated to the war against Israel.

So, can the Israelis feel good about the overall Syrian situation, not really. This is so, because the chaos in large parts of Syria enables radical Jihadist elements to infiltrate the country and base themselves in close, threatening proximity to the Israeli-Syrian border. Hafiz and Bashar Assad were the devils well-known to the Israelis, and despite the rhetoric of their regime, the border with Israel was the quietest of all of Israel's borders. Will it continue to be? Very doubtful, hence why in the end of the day, also the Israelis will feel as losers, as the Syrian situation will continue to unravel. A painful reminder for that was provided by the decision by Austria to pull out from the Golan, its contingent there part of the UNDOF force which monitored so successfully and for so many years the Syrian-Israeli border.

And with it comes also the question of time tables. The fighting in Syria is likely to last for months, perhaps years. While Al-Qusayr may be "liberated," there are neighborhoods in Damascus which are still under the control of the rebels, let alone about 60% of the country. With nearly 100,000 casualties there is no end in sight. Surely it shows who are the greatest losers of all-the Syrian people.