Assad's Soldiers, Qusair, Flag 370.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces repelled an attack by the rebels on Thursday in a demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights that is patrolled by the UN.
Wednesday the regime, along with the aid of Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters, won back control of the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, connecting the Alawite enclave of Syria to the Hezbollah areas of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. The town may be more crucial for Syria and Hezbollah, as it serves as a juncture for the transfer of arms, weapons and fighters between the two, than it is for the rebels.
Pro-government troops have won a string of successes in recent weeks, boosting Assad’s confidence at a time when the United States and Russia are struggling to organize a peace conference aimed at ending the civil war that has killed more than 80,000.
On Wednesday, negotiations between Russian, the UN, and US officials failed to agree upon convening an international peace conference this month, delaying it until at least July.
This means that there probably will be no end to the war in the near future.
The successes on the ground by the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis make any negotiated solution, which was already unlikely, even less so as Assad will be unwilling to make concessions when he feels that he can win more victories on the battle field.
The Sunni Arab world is partly blaming the failure on US President Barack Obama and the West for failing to fully support the rebels.
The rebels and their supporters, however, see Russia and Iran contributing key resources to Syria and Hezbollah that in their eyes has led to their losses on the battlefield.
“The Syrian crisis and its developments have shown that the Obama administration has no influence in the face of Russia in the Middle East; or, it has surrendered this region to Russia because America’s interests are not threatened by a disintegrating Syria or a destabilized Lebanon,” complained Randa Takieddine in an article in the Arab daily Al-Hayat.
The article goes on to state that Obama is mainly concerned with Iran and supporting Israel, ignoring “the thousands of dead who are falling every day due to the repression of Syria’s army.”
In response to recent events, Sunni-religious supporters of the rebels appeared to double down. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Asheikh praised the popular Muslim cleric Sheikh Yousef al- Qaradawi on Thursday for his stance against Syria and Hezbollah, according to a report on Al-Arabiya. Qaradawi called for a jihad against their forces in Syria on Saturday.
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al- Zawahiri also chimed in on Thursday, calling for the toppling of Assad’s regime.
While Islamists dominate the front lines in the fight against Assad, the Sunni Arab states and Turkey have failed to aid them enough to overcome Hezbollah and Iran’s support for Assad, instead complaining that it is the West's fault for not coming to the rescue, as it did in Libya.
Does this mean that we will soon see direct military intervention or a more robust arming of the rebels by Sunni states? Salman Shaikh, the director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, “It has to be the West, and particularly the US, which needs to provide leadership [for military action or support].”
If they do, said Shaikh, then Jordan and other countries in the region will be empowered to help the rebels even more.
Asked by the Post
if he now sees Assad moving to take back the rest of Syria, Shaikh responded, “It is not over and we will have to see what happens in the next few months, if the regime maintains its momentum.”
If this is the case, then Assad will believe he can win, he said.
“The key variable here is the international support,” said Shaikh adding if it becomes consistent and determined, which it currently is not, then there would be a good chance to reverse the latest Assad gains. What we see now, he says, is that Syria’s allies are the ones that are fully backing the regime while the Syrian opposition does not have such support from its backers.
What has to happen, in order to reach a political solution, he said, is there has to be a change to the military balance on the ground.
Reuters contributed to this report.