The mainstream Syrian rebel movement is under assault from three directions: the Syrian army, the Al-Qaeda Nusra Front and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Some of the rebel commanders controlling Damascus outskirts are clinching private ceasefire deals with local Syrian army officers, with some of whom they served as comrades in the same units before they defected. This trend is spreading to other cities, including Homs and Hama.
debkafile’s intelligence and military sources report that these local deals are quickly evolving into joint patrols in rebel-held districts. The fusion of the two warring camps presages the prospect of wide areas seized by the rebels reverting to the control of President Bashar Assad’s regime without further bloodshed.
Not all the rebel leaders go along with this trend. Some are trying to sabotage it by suicide bombing and shelling attacks. Most of these attacks are the work of Al Qaeda factions, like the suicide truck explosion at a government checkpoint on the edge of Hama Sunday, Oct. 20, which killed 30 people.
This kind of violence is beginning to peter out because the rebels’ main supporters, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and anti-Syrian elements in Lebanon, have slowed their logistic assistance and munitions deliveries. They are following the lead of the US, Britain and France, who never made good on the pledges last month to keep the rebels supplied with arms, instructors and military aid.
The rebels’ last remaining active backer is Saudi Arabia.
The situation in Aleppo in the north, Syria’s largest town, is a special case: Until a few months ago, mainstream Syrian rebel militias were the dominant force in northern and northeastern Syria and the Turkish border region. Today, they are pinned down with their backs to the wall by the various Al Qaeda-allied groups, which have also seized control of the highway links between Syria and Iraq. This enables the jihadists to move back and forth between the two countries and gain ready supplies of military equipment and fighters.
Syrian and Iraqi military units which tried to halt this traffic were thrown back.
The Turkish role in the Syrian mess becomes pertinent at this point.
Amid the mutual recriminations between Israel and Turkey over The Washington Post claim of Oct. 17 that Turkish MIT intelligence chief Hakan Fidan shopped Israeli spies to Iran, Ankara has other fish to fry – on the quiet. Fidan sees Syrian Kurds taking advantage of the havoc in northern Syria to seize control of the Turkish border region. To keep them at bay, Turkey has begun supplying Al Qaeda units fighting the Kurds with weapons.
The discovery that a member of NATO was arming al Qaeda jihadists was greeted in Washington with outrage.
In an effort to bring a modicum of control to the pandemonium in Syria, the UN asked veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to renew his mediation mission with the Assad regime and the Syrian rebels in an effort to get Geneva II convened on Nov. 23 to work on a political solution.
Assad is working fast to broaden the local ceasefire accords springing up in the battlefield and marshal a new front consisting of the two warring Syrian camps for a combined war effort to stamp out Al Qaeda’s imprint on the country.
The Syrian ruler is thus coming close to achieving his primary war objective, to persuade the West and especially the United States, to back him as the only Arab ruler truly dedicated to stopping Al Qaeda’s encroachments in the Levant and therefore worth cultivating by Washington.
As this process advances, the issue of Assad’s chemical stockpiles is likely to lose its urgency. In any case the UN experts are making little headway in their mission of destruction.