Seventeen months after the people’s uprising in Syria, the war between the Syrian Armed Forces (SAF) of the leading regime and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) still continues.
Following the failed attempts by peace envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League to Syria Kofi Anan, the war entered an even fiercer phase.
The clashes have intensified after the assassination of four high military members of Syrian government in a bomb explosion in front of the National Security building in Damascus.
The blast killed Defence Minister General Dawoud Rajiha, his deputy Assef Shawkat, Assistant Vice-President Hassan Turkmani and the head of the national security office General Hisham Bakhtiar.
On the same day, 20 July 2012, FSA conquered Damascus central neighbourhoods of Midan and Quabon.
Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad has left Damascus and fled to his hometown Latakia to stay among his Alawi minority in the vicinity of Tartus (90 km) where Russia has its naval base.
Analysts have predicted a fierce battle for Damascus, expecting the city to surrender within 72 hours. However, the opposition did not turn the painful blow to the Syrian regime to their benefit.
The Syrian regime soon managed to absorb the blow and to consolidate by forming the new National Security Council. Within 72 hours Syrian Armed Forces occupied the Midan and Quabon districts and took control of the capital.
The mythical “Battle of Damascus”, as some called it comparing it with the Battle of Stalingrad, has become a mere memory, like it happened when the Syrian army took control of the cities of Adlib, Homs, Daraa, Al-Rastan, Hama etc.
FORMATION OF THE NEW STRATEGY
Both sides have started to prepare a new strategy.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) has moved its forces from Damascus and the neighbouring regions to the city of Aleppo which lies 310 km to the north of Damascus and only 50 km from the Turkish border, expecting the final battle in which they would break down the regime.
Aleppo is now called the new Benghazi. By liberating Aleppo they would turn it into a stronghold of the final insurgency strike in Damascus.
A similar scenario happened during the Libyan war when the rebels freed Benghazi to pave the way for an organised final political and military strike against Tripoli, in which they were assisted by the Western forces which established the no-fly zone over Libya.
However, analysts believe that the Libyan model can not be repeated due to some important factors, among other because Russia opposes the establishment of the no-fly zone.
Having defeated the rebels in Damascus, the Syrian regime started its plan B which encompasses the military and political preparations for a long-term battle. Even it loses Damascus and Aleppo, it will be able to continue the battle from the Alawi enclave in Latakia.
According to plan B, Syrian Armed Forces and state administration left the Kurd-populated north-eastern part of Syria at the end of July, without one single shot.
Assad regime surrendered its control of 16,000 m2 or 8.6% of Syria’s territory to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Thus the Kurds took control of the cities of Afrin, Amuda, Malikiya and Ain Al-Arab.
The regime thus managed to split the Syrian National Council (SNC) into the Kurds and the Arabs, despite the fact that SNC Chairman Abdul Basit Sida is of Kurdish nationality.
Moreover, it turned on the alarm lights in Turkey which is directly affected by the empowerment of PYD – a sister political party of the PKK terrorist organisation which has been fighting against the Turkish state since 1984.
With its plan B Assad regime has let the world know that if it is defeated Syria will be divided into five states, which will lead to the destabilisation of the neighbouring countries.
DIVISION OF SYRIA
The story of Syria’s division into five states is not new. It stems from the times of French mandate over today’s Syria and Lebanon (Levant).
After the First World War the French divided today’s Syria into five para-states: two Sunni para-states in Damascus and Aleppo, Jabal Al-Druz in the south, the Alawi state in Latakia (1920-1936) and Iskenderun which became part of Turkey in 1939 (today the Turkish province of Hatay).
The division of Syria is very dangerous as it can seriously jeopardise the territorial stability of Turkey with 15 million Turkish Alawi living on its southern borders. Moreover, there are also potential PYD threats in northern Syria and the destabilisation of southern Turkey and northern Iraq.
Plan B will cause national and religious division of Syrians into Kurds and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, the Shi’a and the Sunni, and thus push the state and the whole region into sectarian violence.
Iraq faced a similar scenario in 2006 and 2007 when over 100,000 Iraqis were killed in the civil war between the Shi’a majority and the Sunny minority.
By implementing its plan Assad regime wishes to maintain control over Latakia and Tartus in order to continue the fight between the Shi’a-Alawi minority and the Sunni majority in Syria.
If SNC wins and the opposition assumes power, Syria may eventually form into a federal state based on the Iraqi model, in which case the Alawi would get their own federal unit.
Russia will support this concept to keep its strategic naval base in Tartus – which is located in that very federal unit with the pro-Russian Alawi population.
THE BATTLE FOR ALEPPO
The second largest Syrian city Aleppo is of immense strategic importance for both the regime and the opposition. For the regime its conquest would represent repeating the victory in Damascus a few weeks ago, which would have an important psychological effect on its army.
For the opposition Aleppo is of key importance, and as such it seen as the last and final battle location. If the rebels take control over Aleppo, the Benghazi scenario would be repeated. The opposition assisted by the West would thus establish a safety area in the vicinity of the Turkish border.
A temporary Syrian government would then be set up and SNC would be able to ask for international recognition. Nevertheless, the conquest of Aleppo would not represent the end of the war nor the victory of the opposition.
The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. This time it has analysed current events in Syria seventeen months after its people’s uprising. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled: “SYRIA: THE WAR IN SYRIA WILL CONTINUE” are published below.