“Expect major developments in Syria in a few days,” said Iran’s supreme Middle East commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani on June 2 after a series of conferences in Damascus with President Bashar Assad and Syrian army chiefs.
He was echoed in more detail 24 hours later by officials in Tehran, who predicted: “In the next few days, the world will be pleasantly surprised from what we (IRGC) working with Syrian military commanders are currently preparing,” and finally by Adm. Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who stated suggestively: “Syria is defending Muslim nations against the Zionist regime of Israel and terrorist and extremist groups and we are backing her fully.”
Since then, ten days have elapsed with no “pleasant surprises” for the Syrian ruler. He has been watching his army fall apart on his northern and southern fronts without a single Iranian soldier coming to the rescue.
The most unpleasant development for the trilateral alliance of Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah, was the collapse of the Syrian army’ 52nd Brigade, which was supposed to defend southern Syria.
Tuesday, June 9, saw the remnants of this brigade in flight from the rebel Free Syrian army and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Syrian 52nd Brigade is routed in the South
The 52nd Brigade was the Syrian army’s model force – best trained and most smartly organized. At its disposal were three battalions each of T-72 tanks and artillery. Nonetheless, a group of rebel militias was able to wrest from this force the regime’s second largest and best-armed military base – Liwa 52 in the Deraa area.
This base was located by the regime on the fringe of the buffer zone set up in the town of Deraa to protect Suwayda and its capital, which lies 20 km to the west on the slope of Jabal Druze.
The rebel victory leaves the regime with only partial control of the highway linking Deraa to Damascus. It also resembled the Iraqi army’s rout against ISIS in that a mountain of weapons was abandoned by fleeting Syrian troops as war spoils for the rebels.
The 52nd Brigade was left to battle alone. No Syrian, Iranian or Hizballah reinforcements came up to save the day, because none had forces to spare for the southern sector, without seriously weakening other pro-Iranian fronts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Hizballah loses its footing in the West and on home ground
On Syria’s western front along the Lebanese border, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah tried to sound triumphant. Wednesday, June 10, he crowed that the opposition Nusra Front had suffered a “major defeat” at the hands of his men in the northeastern border town of Arsal, while at the same time joining battle with the Islamic State group – ISIS” in the border region.
“In the past few days, major achievements were made in the [region of] Qalamoun. And I can say that the strategic hills and mountains in that area are now under the control of the Syrian army and the men of the resistance,” Nasrallah declared.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, assessing the state of war in this sector, confirm that Nasrallah was whistling in the dark. To paint a semblance of success, he sent a couple of small units to seize hilltops in the embattled area. But all the opposition forces had meanwhile gathered in the valleys between the hills of Qalamoun, overrunning territory – not just on the Syrian side of the border, but in Lebanon too, where they have begun to invade Hizballah’s own turf.
Inside Lebanon to the south, ISIS this week captured the town of Ras Baalbek, 34 km north of Hizballah’s main bastion of Baalbek in the Beqaa Valley.
To sum up, Hizballah like the Syrian army is in retreat in Syria and Lebanon and Iran’s military is too stretched to send troops to their aid.