Outside Patronage and a New Offensive for the Regime is republished
with permission of Stratfor."
Syria: Outside Patronage and a New Offensive for the Regime
The battle for the Syrian city of Al-Qusayr, which came under regime artillery fire May 19, is actually part of a larger battle for the highly coveted Homs governorate. As we noted in 2012, the battle has wide-reaching ramifications for the Syrian rebels since Al-Qusayr sits along a major transit point for rebel supplies and reinforcements coming in from Lebanon. But it is equally important to loyalist forces. If the Syrian regime loses control of the Orontes River Valley and its major road junctions, Damascus will be largely cut off from Aleppo and the Alawite-dominated coast, which would limit the regime's access to supply lines from port cities.
The regime's renewed offensive against Al-Qusayr was made possible by support from Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. However, geography will determine which side holds the advantage. In northern and eastern Syria, the regime remains on the defensive; in the core, the advantage clearly belongs to the loyalists. With the country squarely divided, the Syrian civil war will continue to be a protracted conflict -- even as the regime prevails in Al-Qusayr.
Supported by Hezbollah fighters, loyalist forces began their offensive against Al-Qusayr with a barrage of artillery fire. Given that the rebels are entrenched in static positions throughout the city, massed artillery fire can have a particularly devastating effect. Regime forces are largely deployed to the north and east of the city, while fighters affiliated with Hezbollah are reportedly advancing on the city from the south and west.
Hezbollah has long been involved in the fight over Homs, but the May 19 offensive marks a clear escalation in Hezbollah's involvement. Tensions in Lebanon have grown alongside this increased involvement. For example, rebels struck the Lebanese town of Hermel with rocket artillery on May 19. And the anger Lebanese Sunnis feel toward Hezbollah threatens to spill over into a full-blown armed conflict.
Al-Qusayr is not the only theater in which al Assad has received considerable external support. Iran and Russia continue to deliver much-needed material and equipment, including spare parts needed to maintain the regime's critical advantage over the rebels: the air force. Tehran and Moscow also have reportedly played a major role in giving economic support, which is used to fund the war effort and pay hefty salaries to security forces.
External help also enabled Syria to create a new militia, known as the National Defense Force, to offset the losses incurred by the army. With the help of Iranian and Hezbollah advisers, the regime was able to rapidly train and deploy members of this militia. The National Defense Force has brought reliable manpower to the loyalist cause, but equally important, it has helped free up the conventional army to execute difficult offensive operations.