It took a combined Syrian-Hizballah military force two weeks of vicious fighting to finally capture the strategic town of Al-Qusayr from rebel control Wednesday, June 6. This victory rounded off Bashar Assad’s conquest of the entire Lebanese border region and its removal from rebel access.
The rebels are reduced to getting their supplies of fighters, arms and money from Lebanon indirectly, through Turkey.
Al-Qusayr therefore crowned the Syrian-Hizballah offensive for cutting the rebels off from their outside sources of supply, before the combined force goes on to its next operations for crushing remaining rebel strongholds in Damascus, Hama and Aleppo.
Most of Damascus has been snatched from rebel hands, aside from a few isolated pockets. The center of the capital and its airport are now in safe army hands. All the main traffic arteries branching out of Damascus – north, south and east – are under Syrian army control.
Another Syrian-Hizballah operation has secured the countryside around Hama in central Syria by seizing 40 outlying towns and villages. The same cold-blooded tactic is being executed in eight outlying Aleppo regions, with a view to capturing them and laying rebel strongholds in the city to siege. Once their sources of supply, along with food and water, are cut off – like the starvation imposed on Qusayr – heavy artillery and air barrages will force them to surrender.
Iranian officers liaise between Hizballah and Syrian units
DEBKA Weekly's military sources report that for the first time in the more than two-year civil war, the Syrian ruler can claim control of a continuous strip of land from Deraa in the south up to the Mediterranean coast in the west, after rendering the rebels incapable of mounting a counter-offensive in any sector.
The only town the rebels have managed to hold onto is Ar-Raqqah, on the north bank of the Euphrates, about 160 kilometers east of Aleppo.
Assad’s success in turning the tide of war around in his favor, which peaked this week, was first disclosed in exclusive DEBKA reports four months ago.
He managed it thanks to the loyalty of the Syrian army backed by four staunch outside helpers:
1. The co-opting of Lebanese Hizballah ground forces to the Syrian army undoubtedly tipped the scales in Assad's favor, boosted morale and instilled in his troops their belief in victory. The division of labor between the two forces works with well-oiled efficiency: Hizballah provides the boots on the ground for storming rebel targets, while the Syrian army lays on an escort of armored vehicles, artillery fire and air support and bombardments.
Iranian officers are in charge of coordination between the Syrian army and the Hizballah forces. They work in the field, out of Syrian general staff headquarters in Damascus or Iranian war headquarters in Beirut. An estimated 8,000 Hizballah personnel are fighting in Syria.
Gen. Selim Idriss, chief of the rebel Free Syrian Army Wednesday, June 6 called Hizballah forces “invaders” and blasted the Lebanese government for doing nothing to stop them.
Where have the Al Qaeda-linked rebels disappeared to?
2. By buttressing the Assad regime, Tehran has achieved an aspiration held for decades, the sight of a Shiite army or, rather, a Muslim army under Shiite command, seizing land from Sunni armies and militias.
One of the big riddles of the war in the last two weeks is posed by the disappearance of the once boldest and most effective rebel groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, dubbed the Syrian Al Qaeda, and the Iraqi Al Qaeda fighters who crossed into Syria at about the same time to fight with the rebels.
Why have they stayed out of the rebels’ pivotal battles in the last ten days when their participation could have tilted the balance and robbed Assad and Hizballah of their victories?
Might their inexplicable disappearance relate to the secret negotiations afoot in Tehran between Iranian and Afghan Taliban representatives?
3. The accelerating Russian and Iranian airlifts to Syria in the past weeks, at the rate of three to four planes a day, are keeping the Syrian army and Hizballah militia units well supplied with arms, ammo and replacement parts.
4. The Assad regime has found a new source of funding for its war chest: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is giving Assad unlimited Iraqi credit lines. In other words, Iraq’s multibillion dollar oil revenues are bankrolling the Syrian war effort. The US, Britain, France and every other Western country purchasing Iraqi oil are therefore helping to pay for Bashar Assad’s war on his opposition.
DEBKA-Weekly's intelligence sources report that al-Maliki foots the bill for all Syrian government purchases – from flour to Russian weapons systems and arms on international markets.
Iraq also provides Syria with petroleum, benzene, fuel distillates and oils for the Syrian army's logistical systems.
And as we reported in the last DEBKA Weekly, the Iraqi prime minister has sent 20,000 troops to seal the Syrian border against the entry of rebel reinforcements from the Persian Gulf and Iraqi Sunni militias.
Bashar Assad can hardly fail to win his war against a divided opposition starved of support, given the hefty financial, intelligence and military aid provided him by Iran, Iraq, Russia and Hizballah.