The Obama administration’s stand-on-the-sidelines policy in Syria has been premised on the assumption that it was only a matter of time before Bashar Assad’s downfall–his “days are numbered,” administration officials have been saying for the past two years. Not so fast. This dispatch from Washington Post reporter Liz Sly in Beirut suggests that the battle is actually swinging in Assad’s direction, thanks in large part to the extensive aid he is receiving from Iran and Hezbollah.
Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are actively engaged in hostilities–not only fighting themselves but also helping the Assad regime to organize and train a new militia force made up primarily of Alawites that is far more loyal to the regime than the Sunni-dominated ranks of the regular army. The National Defense Force, as this militia is known, is using guerrilla-style tactics against the rebels, fighting them block by block.
“Meanwhile,” Sly writes, “the regime can still call on its conventional superiority to project its power into areas where the rebels hold sway on the ground, including air strikes, ballistic missiles and artillery. And unlike the rebel force, which has received only sporadic supplies of relatively low-caliber weaponry from its reluctant Western and Arab allies, Assad’s military can count on steady supplies of arms and ammunition from Iran and Russia.” Those arms supplies soon could include the provision of sophisticated air-defense systems from Russia.
One might add, based on the evidence of recent weeks, that the Assad regime can also employ its chemical stockpile without fear of retribution from the West. For all these reasons, Assad’s fighters have put the rebels on the defensive and are starting to push them back.
It is time to think the unthinkable: What would happen if Assad were to succeed in suppressing the rebellion? While a rebel victory would be problematic from America’s standpoint, because of the increasing role of jihadist radicals in the rebel ranks, a victory for the regime would be catastrophic. It would leave in place a government that was even more beholden to Hezbollah and Iran than was the case previously. It would, in short, solidify Iran’s beachhead in the middle of the Levant and it would deal a serious blow to the interests of the United States, Israel, and moderate Arab regimes, which have been supporting the rebels.
It is not too late to avert this dire outcome, but that will require Obama to rethink his policy of inaction.