US in quiet talks with Hizballah as Syrian rebels lose Qalamoun strongholds in crushing defeat
The conquest Sunday, Dec. 8, of Nabuk in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border is a signal strategic breakthrough for Bashar Assad’s army, climaxing a row of battleground successes that have cast the rebel forces in deep disarray. Nabuk fell after a two-week siege by the combined forces of Syria, Hizballah, Iraqi Shiite units and the Iranian Al Qods Brigades. The Qalamoun range which separates central Syria from central Lebanon is at their mercy.
Assad and his allies, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, can chalk up four major war gains:
1. The highway from Damascus to Syria’s two port towns, Latakia and Tartus on the Mediterranean coast, is now open through the wayside town of Homs.
2. The last remaining rebel supply routes from Lebanon are cut off. Syrian rebels can no longer use Lebanon as a supply base for reinforcements and new recruits or as a destination for their casualties to receive treatment.
3. The Damascus-Beirut highway is now wholely under Hizballah control, providing its Beirut headquarters vitally direct access to the forces posted to Damascus, and easing liaison and communications among Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah military units in the field.
4. Pushing the rebels out of their Qalamoun strongholds was the last step before loosening their two-year grip on the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Under relentless Syrian army siege, many rebel commanders holding on to those suburbs are crossing the lines and handing sectors over to Syrian army officers.
The Assad regime has reached a stage in the civil war at which the rebels no longer pose a military threat to his hold on power and have lost the capacity for more more than terrorist attacks or sporadic mortar shelling.
The Syrian rebel movement has lost its coherence as a fighting force. In desperation, they are releasing a stream of false claims of successes and unfounded accusations that Assad has reverted to chemical warfare.
debkafile’s sources have also established that there is no truth in rebel assertions that they had written guarantees from the United States and European governments that Bashar Assad would not remain in power after the Geneva II to be convened next month for a political solution of the Syrian conflict.
Since the only anti-Assad forces still in fighting shape are the two Al Qaeda affiliates, Jabhat al Nusra and the Iraqi branch, Washington is turning its back on the Syrian rebel movement as a whole and instead ready to talk indrectly to Syrian army elements loyal to Assad as well as Hizballah.
For the first time in the 1,000-day civil war, the Americans find themselves in greater sympathy with Russia, Iran, Assad and Hizballah than the rebel cause.
Indeed, in consideration of Hizballah’s military kudos and rising political clout in Beirut, the Obama administration has opened up a back channel to its leaders, mostly through British diplomats.
It turns out that the same coalition which contrived the nuclear deal in Geneva on Nov. 24 – the US, Russia and Iran – is going into action again on the Syrian issue with a favored spot for Iran’s Lebanese Shiite pawn
Hizballah is meanwhile paying dear for its battleground exploits as witnessed in the daily funerals of Hizballah commanders and fighters who died in the Syria war – the last was Ali Bazzi from the south Lebanese town of Bin Jbeil who was laid to rest on Monday, Dec. 9.
Nasrallah needs his gift of the gab more than ever before to answer constant complaints from his followers and demands to understand the rationale by which their best commanders had to lay down their lives for a foreign cause on an alien battlefield.
They don’t buy his argument that their intervention in the Syrian war defended Lebanon against its spillover.
They may change their tune when Lebanese Shiites, along with their Iranian masters, discover that the Syrian wheel has turned again and the United States and other big powers are distancing themselves from the rebel side of the war and beginning to favor Assad and his allies, namely Iran and Hizballah.