The 52nd Brigade was the second best unit of the Assad army. An elite force, consisting of infantry, artillery and armored elements -- a well-resourced -trained -motivated Alawite unit. It was stationed around the town of Dara'a, in the southeast of Syria, close to the Syria-Jordan and Syria-Israel borders, controlling the southern roads to Damascus. This is a region whose population is mostly tribal Sunni Muslim and Druze. The brigade is no more, as after only eight hours of fighting, the 1st army of the rebels destroyed it, and in the process 400 Alawite soldiers were killed, with many more injured. This is a resounding defeat for the regime; one which leads to some important questions: What is happening with the once powerful Syrian army, built to be a strategic match to Israel's army? What are the implications for the Alawite community; and above all, how is Iran connected with all that?
The recent defeat is another link in the chain of regime defeats anticipated, analyzed and described in this blog. That in itself is not new. But what is new is the easiness with which such an elite unit, considered one of Assad's last resorts, crumbled so quickly and so disgracefully to rebel forces which are under-staffed, as well as far less trained and not well provided for. The answer is that what is happening these days is a reflection of a new strategy adopted by the regime which is based mainly on the increasing predicament of the Alawite community. This community of human resources are fast dwindling, as tens of thousands out of a community of three million people were already killed, and counting. Intolerable situation for a community and army which is almost exclusively based on Alawite recruits.
The result is a conscious decision by the regime to give up on the outlying regions in the northwest, northeast and south Syria, and concentrate in the Alawite territory, but also Damascus and the mostly Sunni enclaves of Homs and Hamah. If the regime opted for the small Alawistan option -- to withdraw completely to the Alawite mountains with a corridor to the Mediterranean leading to the port of Tartus -- there could have been an actual ceasefire with the rebel groups. However, the large Alawistan option, which the regime opts for, including Damascus, will make it certain that the rebels will fight over the city. No Islamist group in Syria, whether ISIS, al-Nusra, the Fath army, or the Free Syria Army [FSA], will give up on Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad dynasty [661-750 A.D]. The rebels are divided between themselves and fighting each other, which surely something that the regime will be happy to see happening in the areas that are falling under their control, but they are united about one cherished desire: the need for an historic revenge exacted from the hated Nusayris [a derogatory term for the Alawites.]
A few days ago, Abu Muhammad Al Julani, the Amir of Al Nusra, made no bones in describing the fate awaiting the Alawites. He simply echoed the famous Fatwa of Ibn Tayimiyya [died 1329 A.D], which referred to the Alawites as being worse than the infidels, deserving death. So, the battle over Damascus, which is fast approaching and is inevitable, surely can be the last stand of the entire Alawite community, which has never viewed Damascus as an important place. Is this an Assad-Alawite strategy, or that of his Iranian masters? Here is where Iran comes into the picture.
Put bluntly, Bashar Assad is no more the real ruler of what is, even nominally, under his control; no more than 20 percent of his territory. He is the messenger boy of the Iranian regime. His generals are subjected to the overall supreme orders of Kassem Suleimany, the chief commander of the Iranian Revolutionary guards, the actual High Commissioner of Syria. That is the sad truth for all those who still believe the rhetoric of the Assad regime. It is a fiction regime in a fiction state. Iran is now calling the shots, and that brings us back to the tragic end of the 52nd Brigade. It was an Iranian decision to remove the heavy armaments of the Brigade towards Damascus without battle, thus exposing the Alawite troops, deprived of their means of defense, to their inevitable fate. Hundreds of them were killed, many more injured, others imprisoned. The Alawite community cannot and will not be able to sustain this situation for too long. "Their" savior, Bashar Assad, is just a pawn on the drawing board of the Iranian planners. The Alawites fight for their life, the Iranians for the creation of the Sh'ite crescent. That is not the same.
Iran is sending troops, arms and many non-Iranian Shi'ite volunteers to Syria, alongside the inevitable huge financial investment. They are taking the initiative, and many in the West are misled to believe that they can still pull a victory in Syria as part their modern-day empire. That is the wrong assumption, as they conduct a losing battle, and they do it using a fallen dictator and at the expense of many Syrian Sunni Muslims, which the Iranians do not care about, but also too many Alawites, which they are supposed to care about. This policy will not last for long, and the Syrian province of the empire they dream about in Tehran will be lost amid an unprecedented bloodshed which will engulf also Iranians.