Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is This Al Qaeda's Strategy To Defeat President Bashar Assad?

Rebel fighters, one of them carrying a flag used by al Qaeda's Nusra Front, celebrate at the Mihrab roundabout in the Idlib city centre, after they took control of the area on March 28, 2015. Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

IBTimes: Jabhat Al-Nusra's Win In Idlib Highlights Al Qaeda's Strategy To Defeat President Bashar Assad

The Syrian civil war began as a battle between Syrian opposition groups and President Bashar Assad’s regime, but the battleground quickly evolved into a kaleidoscope of brigades and battalions fighting each other, the regime and terrorist organizations like the Islamic State group. And now, four years into a conflict that is increasingly pulling in foreign fighters and international powers, one Syrian faction has emerged as the most effective one fighting Assad: al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), has capitalized on the threat of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, and the increasing ineffectiveness of moderate rebel groups. And it has succeeded on the ground thanks to a military strategy that relies on partnerships with other rebel groups, many of whom JN said it would be willing to include in a post-Assad Syrian government.

WNU Editor: One of the reasons why President Bashar Assad’s regime has been able to stay in power for so long has been (and still is) the disunity among his opponents .... both politically and militarily. If these rebel groups are able to unify, the military dynamics will definitely change on the ground .... but politically .... the idea of Al Qaeda being victorious in Syria .... I cannot even begin listing the nightmare scenarios that are going through my mind on that prospect.


Publius said...

In my view, the Assad regime is likely to survive regardless of whether the various Islamist groups and others opposed to his regime unite or not.

I entirely agree that Assad has profited from the disunity among his opponents, and that unity among them would degrade Assad's military position. But I think that the key factor will be whether Iran calculates that his regime must survive. I think that Iran will consider the following:

1. Iran is building a more or less contiguous belt of territory from Iran, across Iraq and Syria, and into Lebanon. This belt is under Iranian control, or at least influence by Iranian proxies. This belt is very important to Iran; I think that they view it as a vital national interest. Control of this territory gives Iran leverage over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey as nation states. The territory in Syria and Lebanon also gives Iran greater ability to threaten the Zionist entity and , through Israel, to threaten the Great Satan.

2. Superimposed on the national interest calculations in No. 1, Iranians, as Shiite Moslems, are also fighting Sunni Moslems in the foregoing countries. As I have posted before, I think that the fighting has a dimension of a religious war, about which Iran will be very unwilling to make concessions. This will be true even if national interest calculations in No. 1 suggest that Iran should allow Assad's regime to fall.

3. Iranians are, of course, Persians. It is no secret that they dislike Arabs, who return their dislike. There is a racial dimension to this war. Most of the fighters on all sides are Arabs, and Iranians will not especially weep to see Arabs die.

4. What are the costs to Iran, in blood, of continuing the war? Certainly Iranians are fighting in Syria, but as noted in No. 3 most casualties among the pro-regime forces are Arabs. Iran has plenty of young men, and the casualties among them are acceptable to the Ayatollahs. Recall the human wave charges and poison gas during the Iran-Iraq war that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iranian youths perishing. By those standards, Iranian casualties in Syria are minor.

5. What are the costs to Iran, in money, of continuing the war? Certainly Iran is spending serious money in its wars, including Syria. I think Iran is feeling the strain, which explains why they have been trying to get the sanctions lifted. But even if the nuclear talks fail and sanctions continue, I am not sure that financial pressure is sufficient to cause the Iranians to abandon the Syrian regime. Great powers do not allow money to control their vital national interests. Consider France during the American Revolution: the French wanted to take the UK down a few pegs by causing them to lose the American colonies. From a financial perspective, French support helped bankrupt France, leading directly to 1789. My point is: a Government's perceived vital national interests trump financial considerations.

mlacix said...

The article is right on what it say, but I also sceptical on any real alliance between rebel factions. FSA was unorganised, just like Islamic Front in most of the times. Al-Nusra could organise, and they have the experiance, but they were the ones who slowly detroyed the moderated rebel groups (executions in meetings, tortures, infightings, kidnapping, even before ISIS came). Al-Nusra just want to position itself on the best way, let others die, while they take the glory. Even if the rebels who captured Idlib not mentioned Nusra, but if you read the news, and the headlines who realy captured Idlib? Al-Nusra. Well played, I need to admit.


Nice summary, but I would like to add one more thing, which is smaller in scale, but gets high value by time. This is the "field testing" and "on hand experiance". Entering into a war "secretly" as a supporter can avoid our own casualties, but give us the possibility to learn and test. The Iranian UAVs, short and long range rocket systems(also the products of the Syrian-Iranina cooperative rocket development project), small arms (sniper and anti-material rifles for example) are all battle tested now, and this test cost very litle to Iran. Also need to mention the officer, soldier and crew(pilot) exchange possibilities, to learn more about how to use vehicles and how to operate in a war. Iranin planes flying in Iraq and Syria, Iranian bring some of their own T-72 to the fightings, IRGC leaders on the ground and so on. This preparation process ha a very high value if they need to use this knowladge in the next 10 years, which seems like they will. Every bigger nation do this, even in the past, it's a part of the development process.

Philip said...

Don't forget Heb'allah, who are getting invaluable experience in combined-arms warfare.

mlacix said...

Yes, right , there is the point.

War News Updates Editor said...

Thank you for your summary Publius and for your feedback mlacix.