Global Times - Op-Ed
Depending on which side you are on, the Syrian conflict has taken a turn
for the better or for the worse following the Syrian Army's retaking of
the rebel-held city of Qusayr earlier this month after a two-week-long
The siege, aided by Lebanon's Hezbollah, marks an
upswing for the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,
being the first decisive victory over a rebel-held city since the
conflict began in the spring of 2011.
The tide appears to be
turning in Assad's favor, while the rebels and their supporters have
faced a serious setback. Decisive battles are now afoot that will change
how the conflict plays out.
Qusayr, in western Syria, was
strategically important to the Free Syria Army (FSA) due to its
proximity to the Lebanese border and as a conduit for smuggling weapons.
With the fall of Qusayr, and the Syrian Army having retaken
control of the Damascus to Aleppo highway, the government armed forces
are moving north on the city of Homs and the rebel-controlled areas of
the country's second largest city, Aleppo.
If the rebels lose
these two cities, their options will be limited to try and hold the
Northeast, largely restricted to guerrilla tactics to wear the Syrian
Army down and prompt more desertions, as it did before when the uprising
spread throughout the country.
As General Salim Idriss, chief
of staff of the FSA's Supreme Military Council, put it to the press,
"the best way for us to fight this regime is by guerrilla warfare or hit
and run tactics without holding on to territory." By Idriss' own
admission, the FSA has been weakened and is in serious need of more than
light weapons to take on the Syrian Army and air force if it is to
The anti-Assad camp does not want the rebels to lose
their footing. The US has announced it will provide military aid
"different in scope and scale to what we have provided before," but
other NATO allies have been less forthcoming.
hesitancy about supplying the rebels with heavy weaponry is that they
could fall into the wrong hands, primarily radical Islamist groups such
as the Al-Nusra Front, which has become infamous for a commander cutting
out the heart of a dead Syrian soldier on videotape, as well as for its
Furthermore, NATO countries are reluctant
to go into Syria to enforce a no-fly zone on behalf of the rebels given
the lack of public will for further foreign intervention, and that an
air campaign has to factor in that Syria has Russian-supplied
Nonetheless, a turning point is looming
for the anti-Assad factions as to whether to multilaterally heavily arm
the rebels and resort to aerial intervention or not.
US-Russia-sponsored peace talks have been largely scuttled due to the
opposition not wanting to turn up as it is not in the best bargaining
For the FSA and its backers, a turn in fortunes is
needed militarily to be able to push for more concessions at the
On the international stage, a setback for the
rebels in Syria is a blow in the West's campaign against Syria's ally
Iran, and by extension to countering Russia and China.
alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Army is being pushed as
the proverbial "smoking gun" to rally support for major international
The weapons of mass destruction argument worked
before when beating the drums for war on Iraq, and when public opinion
in the West was not initially amenable to intervention in Libya, and
recently in France's intervention in Mali, military actions were
If the Syrian rebels get extensive
backing and air cover as a result of the loss of Homs and Aleppo, then a
different phase starts in the conflict. As it does if the rebels are
not supported and pushed further on the defensive. Regardless, a
rumbling conflict will likely rage for years, whether between what
remains of the rebels and the Assad regime, or between rival rebel
The violence that continues in Iraq, where more than
1,000 people were killed last month, should remind us how long this