The situation surrounding Syria is like a pendulum; first it swings in the direction of a major war, then suddenly a peaceful resolution glimmers. Observers barely have a chance to evaluate the new tendency before the pendulum starts to swing in the opposite direction again. The amplitude of its swing is so great that it sweeps through the center almost without pausing. In recent days on the battlefield, the scales have clearly been tipping in favor of the government forces. Western strategists are faced with a choice: either admit that the attempt to establish a puppet regime in Syria has failed, or set aside all their «soft power» gimmicks and switch to an open and expensive military intervention.
Problems with holding a conference on settling the Syrian issue, as expected, arose immediately after Lavrov and Kerry reached an agreement on this matter in Moscow. Just two days later in Rome at a meeting with Jordanian and Israeli ministers, the U.S. Secretary of State disavowed his own words, declaring that Bashar al-Asad and his followers cannot be a part of a transitional government. On Kerry’s instructions, American ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who had left Damascus some time earlier, secretly came from Turkey to Aleppo for several hours, where at a meeting with opposition leaders he told them not to worry and assured them of full support until the final victory. Thus the prospects of a peaceful resolution «withered in the bud». (1) For the Americans, an agreement that is «satisfactory to everyone» is when everyone is satisfied with what America wants.
Official Damascus, ignored by the West, not only remains the main political force in Syria, but is also gaining ground against its adversary. The Syrian army has rearmed, gained needed battle experience, augmented its forces with professional volunteers from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, and begun to systematically make up its losses. Although Damascus, understandably, denies that foreigners are participating in military operations on their side, many sources say that they are, and that they are being led by the commander of the Quds Force of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian general Qassem Suleimani… According to the Arabic media, this mission was entrusted to him by the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. Furthermore, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, also met a month ago with the spiritual leader of Iran and received instructions from him to direct all his efforts to the fight against the «rebels» in Syria. It has been noted that Nasrallah has at least 7000 men under his command on the territory of Syria. (2)
Government troops occupied strategic positions near the Jordanian border in mid-May, blocking military aid to its adversaries, and on May 19 they won an important victory by liberating the city of Al-Qusayr on the northern border with Lebanon. This opens a direct route between the coast, which is loyal to Asad and populated by Alawites, to the capital, as well as an unobstructed supply route between Damascus and its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon. It will be much more difficult for Israel to interrupt that channel. At the same time, the opposition’s northern Lebanese supply routes are being cut off; this is one of the most devastating losses the rebels have sustained in two years of war. A large opposition force near Homs has been cut off. There is basically only one direction from which it can realistically receive supplies: from Turkey. However, expectations that Turkey can prevent the failure of the entire Syrian venture are not justified. Turkish Prime Minister R. Erdoğan, who not long ago was trying to convince America to establish a no-fly zone and conduct a military intervention in Syria, during a recent visit to Washington unexpectedly started speaking of the necessity of a peace conference. (3) Apparently he had also gotten «news from the front».
It is also becoming more and more difficult for Western leaders to conceal the face of the opposition. Scenes of mass executions and even acts of cannibalism on the part of the regime’s adversaries are simply shocking. Damascus is winning the propaganda war, essentially without even fighting it. Such is the nature of the adversary it faces; it continually gives itself away. Surveys show that absolutely everywhere in the world, the overwhelming majority of public opinion is against foreign military intervention in Syria on the side of such «freedom fighters».
At the same time, by being on the same side as Israel, oppositionists from the radical Jabhat al-Nusra front have started to lose the aureole of staunch Islamic fighters. This was especially noticeable during al-Nusra’s attack on Yarmouk, a large camp of Palestinian refugees in a suburb of Damascus, during which they destroyed the grave of Sheikh F. Shakaki at the Cemetery of Martyrs. And this is despite the fact that the Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of whom are staunch Sunnites, still maintain neutrality in the civil war. Making enemies of the numerous Palestinians, who are always ready to fight, is shortsighted, to say the least. However, the masks are coming off, and it is becoming clear that Islam, like democracy, has nothing to do with anything here; this is a matter of a profitable political put-up job.
The influential Washington Post admits: «There is little doubt that the pendulum is now swinging in favor of Assad, potentially putting him in a strong position to set terms if the negotiations with the opposition… take place». Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center expert Charles Lister believes that «If things continue as they are, the government will certainly be the party that has the major advantage» in any negotiations. (4)
Similar opinions are being expressed in Israel. For example, the London Times published an interview with a high-ranking Israeli intelligence officer who told the newspaper that an intact but weakened Asad is much preferable to his opponents: «Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if… extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there.» Another Israeli source quoted by the Times said that events in Syria had been evaluated incorrectly from the start. «The working hypothesis was that Asad’s regime was falling fast. We underestimated Asad’s strength and his influence on his people, and overestimated the military capabilities of the rebels», he said.
Analysts from the Israeli center DEBKAfile believe that both the U.S. and Israel made strategic errors in earlier stages due to faulty assessments of the strengths of the warring sides. They thought that Asad’s days were numbered and it would only take a small effort to topple him. However, as a result, the Tehran – Damascus – Hezbollah alliance has only become stronger, partly thanks to technical support from Russia, and it is now regaining one position after another. Furthermore, after Israeli air attacks, not only has Asad’s potential not become weaker, but the possibility of military activities shifting to the occupied Golan Heights has arisen. (5)
Israel is also rethinking its previous view that the fall of Asad’s regime and the ascension of the «rebels» to power will have no serious negative consequences for Israelis. Considering the more and more active penetration of terrorist forces from Global Jihad and Al Qaeda into the ranks of the rebels, Israeli specialists are beginning to express serious misgivings about the possibility of future peaceful coexistence with «post-Asad Syria». In addition, Israel feels it must be ready for a turn of events in which «Asad maintains, if not power, then at least strong influence in Syria». (6)
Analysts also explain the growing pessimism in the West and in Israel with regard to prospects of a possible military victory of the Syrian opposition by the consistent and decisive position of Russia, which «doesn’t want a repetition of the Libyan scenario». (7) By delivering modern mid-range antiship missiles to Damascus, as well as through the presence of «over a dozen naval ships» patrolling the coast of Syria, Moscow has essentially «cut off the route for supplying the rebels by sea» and made foreign military intervention very difficult. It is no accident that U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey has called the delivery of Russian missiles to Syria an «ill-timed» and «unfortunate» decision, as it will «embolden» Asad. For the American general, perhaps it is an «unfortunate decision», but for the Syrian people and the stability of the region, it is quite fortunate.
The new circumstances objectively strengthen the positions of both Moscow and official Damascus at the negotiations on the future of Syria. (8) However, Washington is unlikely to abandon its plans so quickly. The Syrian people, along with its friends and allies, will still have to fight for the right to freely choose its own fate.