Breaking: Assad Prepares For Islamic State Assault On Damascus, Has An Escape Plan

A day after Islamic State seized the ancient city of Palmyra (Talmor), more alarming news is coming out of Syria.

Reuters reported a while ago that followers of Islamic State had posted an official IS statement on Twitter that the organization was in full charge of Palmyra, including its military bases.

Around a third of the 200,000 people living in Palmyra may have fled in the past few days during fighting between government forces and Islamic State militants, the U.N. human rights office said on Thursday.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – which has a vast network of civil informants in Syria – reported this morning that Islamic State is now in full control of 50 percent of the Syrian territory.

The Observatory wrote on its website that Islamic State controls more than 60,000 square miles in the provinces of Homs, al-Raqqa, el-Hasakah, Hama, Aleppo, Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Daraa, and al-Suwaydaa.

The organization also controls the vast majority of the gas and oilfields in Syria. The only gas fields that are not controlled by Islamic State are Rmeilan and Sha’er. The group is also in control of most of the Syria-Iraqi border as well as the Syrian Jordanian frontier, according to Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Observatory.

Since the beginning of the attack on Palmyra and the town of al-Sikhni, 462 people have died; 71 of them were executed on the charge of “dealing and cooperating with the infidel regime.”

The capture of Palmyra—the first major city that Islamic State has wrested from Assad’s army and its allies Hezbollah and the Iranian Al Quds Brigade, as opposed to Islamist and other  opposition groups—provides the militants with a base from which to advance on other cities held by Assad, including Homs and Damascus. Palmyra is sixty miles from Damascus and is located on the highway to Damascus.

Israeli Channel 10’s Middle East expert, Tzvi Yechezkieli, reported this evening that the fall of Palmyra could spell the end of Assad’s central government. He pointed to the fact that Assad is losing territory to Islamic State every day and is now in control of only a quarter of Syria’s territory.

Yechezkieli reported that Assad has taken into consideration the possibility that he could be ousted by Islamic State and has an escape plan in case Islamic State will seize Damascus. The Channel 10 expert said that when that happens, Assad will withdraw his forces to the Western part of Syria and will try to hold the areas where the Alawite minority lives. Assad is a member of this non-Muslim minority that makes up only ten percent of the population in Syria.

Yechezkieli also pointed to another dramatic development following the takeover of Palmyra. He said that Islamic State launched a massive jailbreak and released thousands of Syrians who had been incarcerated in Palmyra’s state-run prison, most of them for opposing Assad’s regime. Many of the freed prisoners were welcomed into Islamic State’s forces, he said. “This will only add to the power and motivation of Islamic State’s forces,” he added.

Meanwhile, President Obama told Atlantic reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that the U.S. isn’t losing the fight against Islamic State. He said that the fall of Ramadi in Iraq was “a tactical setback” and added that “the city has been vulnerable for a very long time.”

In related news, Reuters reported today that Turkey’s state intelligence agency helped deliver arms to parts of Syria under Islamist rebel control during late 2013 and early 2014, according to a prosecutor and court testimony from gendarmerie officers seen by the news agency.

The witness testimony contradicts Turkey’s denials that it sent arms to Syrian rebels and, by extension, contributed to the rise of Islamic State, now a major concern for the NATO member.

Testimony from gendarmerie officers in court documents reviewed by Reuters allege that rocket parts, ammunition, and semi-finished mortar shells were carried in trucks accompanied by state intelligence agency (MIT) officials more than a year ago to parts of Syria under Islamist control.

Four trucks were searched in the southern province of Adana in raids by police and gendarmerie, one in November 2013 and the three others in January 2014, on the orders of prosecutors acting on tip-offs that they were carrying weapons, according to testimony from the prosecutors, who now themselves face trial.

While the first truck was seized, the three others were allowed to continue their journey after MIT officials accompanying the cargo threatened police and physically resisted the search, according to the testimony and prosecutor’s report.

This makes clear that President Tayyip Erdogan lied when he said the three trucks stopped on Jan. 19 belonged to MIT and were carrying humanitarian aid. Erdogan also lied when he denied that Turkey was aiding Islamic State in its battle against Assad’s regime.

President Obama, who has developed a close relationship with Erdogan, has always regarded the Islamist Turkish President as a leader who could help stabilize the situation in the Middle East.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

BREAKING: ISIS Seizes City 60 Miles From Baghdad, Mobilizes Shiite Forces

After the Pentagon triumphantly announced that U.S. commandos killed a senior Islamic State commander during a raid in eastern Syria on Saturday, ISIS seized the strategically important town of Ramadi in Iraq on Monday.

It was only the second time since the U.S.-led coalition has been striking Islamic State that troops carried out a ground operation.

Syrian state media claimed that Assad’s forces killed at least 40 Islamic State fighters, including the senior commander, in an attack on the country’s largest oil field that is held by ISIS. The commander was identified as Abu al-Teem al-Saudi, a citizen of Saudi Arabia.

The Times of Israel reported that the Syria Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the oil field attack, saying at least 19 IS members, including 12 foreigners, were killed. The group did not say who carried out the attack.

The report states:

A statement from the US National Security Council said Abu Sayyaf was a “senior ISIL leader who, among other things, had a senior role in overseeing ISIL’s illicit oil and gas operations — a key source of revenue that enables the terrorist organization to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians.”

“He was also involved with the group’s military operations,” it said.

“We suspect that Umm Sayyaf is a member of ISIL, played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities, and may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young woman rescued last night,” [National Security Council Spokeswoman Spokesperson Bernadette] Meehan said in a statement.

It said President Barack Obama authorized the operation upon the “unanimous recommendation” of his national security team.

The news about the successful U.S. operation in eastern Syria was quickly overshadowed by alarming reports about Islamic State advances in both Syria and Iraq.

On Saturday, Islamic State seized control of the northern neighborhoods of Syria’s ancient desert city of Palmyra after heavy fighting with Assad’s army, the Syrian Observatory reported.

“IS advanced and took control of most of northern Palmyra, and there are fierce clashes happening now,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He said 13 Islamic State fighters were killed in ongoing clashes near the Islamic citadel in the city’s west. UNESCO immediately called upon the UN Security Council to act to save one of the Middle East’s historic treasures. UNESCO fears Islamic State will destroy Palmyra’s artifacts, including tombs.

Late Sunday night, it became clear that Assad’s forces had been able to drive ISIS out of Palmyra.

“Islamic State’s attack was foiled,” provincial governor Talal Barazi said after troops routed ISIS fighters from the northern part of the modern town of Palmyra. But the Syrian Observatory said Islamic State troops were still just less than a mile away from the archeological site and its museum. The group reported that nearly 300 people have been killed in four days of fighting – 123 Syrian soldiers and their allies, 115 Islamic State fighters, and 57 civilians.

On Monday, Islamic State delivered a devastating blow to the effort to retake Iraqi territory from the group.

The strategically important town of Ramadi was overtaken by Islamic State after a long battle in which hundreds of people died. Ramadi is less than 70 miles from Baghdad.

The ISIS victory means that the group is now in full control of Iraq’s largest province of Anbar.

The ISIS victory in Ramadi became possible after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the United States, and the leadership of the Sunni province of Anbar refused to deploy the Iran-backed Shiite militias in Ramadi.

They all favored developing local Sunni forces, but militia leaders said Monday the past few days had proved the government could not afford to do without the Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Militias).

Immediately after Islamic State forces raised their black flag at the provincial headquarters in Ramadi, Iran’s Al Quds Force intervened and started to mobilize Shiite militias at a base near Ramadi.

Reuters reported a while ago that a column of 3,000 Shiite militia fighters had arrived at a military base near Ramadi on Monday.

Setting the stage for renewed fighting over the city, Islamic State militants advanced in armored vehicles from Ramadi towards the base where the Shi’ite paramilitaries were amassing for a counter-offensive, witnesses and a military officer said.

At the same time, U.S.-led warplanes stepped up raids against the Islamists, conducting 19 strikes near Ramadi over the past 72 hours at the request of the Iraqi security forces, a coalition spokesman said.

“Hashed al-Shaabi forces reached the Habbaniya base and are now on standby,” said the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout. They were fully equipped and highly capable, the council said.

Iran wants to prevent further Islamic State advances in the direction of Baghdad and the holiest place of Shia Islam in Karbala, a city less than 70 miles to the southwest of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the Institute for the Study of War released a study on the war against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (al-Sham):

ISIS’s ultimate end is likely a global war, not a limited war for local control inside Iraq and Syria. ISIS’s vision for a prospering caliphate requires that it instigate a broader war to compromise states competing with it for legitimacy…

ISIS announced operations to expand to Libya, Sinai, and other corners of the Arab world in late 2014 while under duress, in a moment of weakness during which rumors arose of the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s leader. The timing of this announced expansion supported ISIS’s momentum while it faced counter-attacks inside Iraq and Syria.

Global expansion is a motif that ISIS desires to propagate at times when it is experiencing tactical losses. Expansion into new territory is, therefore, a defensive supporting operation. But it is nevertheless also a concrete operational plan to make its caliphate larger.

ISIS is framing its strategy across three geographic rings: the Interior Ring in the Levant, the Near Abroad in the wider Middle East and North Africa, and the Far Abroad in Europe, Asia, and the United States. ISIS’s strategic framework corresponds to a campaign with three overarching goals: to defend inside Iraq and Syria; to expand operations regionally, and to disrupt and recruit on a global scale.

Iraq is central to the origin of ISIS’s caliphate, and likely also central to many among ISIS’s leadership cadre. Iraq will likely remain the epicenter of ISIS’s campaign as long as its current leadership is alive. The physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria is still the source of ISIS’s power, unless ISIS’s operations in the Near or Far Abroad achieve momentum that is independent of ISIS’s battlefield success in Iraq and Syria…

Control of cities is the metric for the success or failure of states that are challenged by ISIS. Cities are also the key to challenging the legitimacy of ISIS’s caliphate. They are not, however, the metric by which to measure the defeat of ISIS’s fighting force.

ISIS’s ability to remain as a violent group, albeit rebranded, has already been demonstrated, given the near-defeat of its predecessor AQI in 2008 and its resurgence over the intervening period. Nevertheless, ISIS in 2015 is a caliphate that has more to prove, and it likely desires to preserve the image of a vast dominion across Iraq and Syria.

In this most dangerous form, ISIS is a counter-state, a state-breaker that can claim new rule and new boundaries after seizing cities across multiple states by force, an unacceptable modern precedent. ISIS would fail to remain as an alternative political order, however, if it lost all of the cities under its control, an important aspect of the US plan to defeat ISIS strategically.

As we saw today, Islamic State succeeded to seize another city in Iraq and, as the BBC map below shows, this is part of an overall plan to seize control of the capitals of Iraq and Syria.

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The U.S.-led coalition, however, is convinced that the end of ISIS is near. Coalition warplanes dropped leaflets on ISIS’ capital of Raqqa in Syria today.

“Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Islamic State) your held areas dwindle every day. We kill a lot of your leaders and countless of fighters. We can raid you anytime and anywhere. You are powerless to stop us. We are not going to stop, and your destiny is to lose this war. Your end is approaching and the zero hour is very close. We can strike you inside your alleged area and take one of your emirs but you can do nothing about this,” the leaflet said.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Heavy Fighting In Syria Continues As IDF Warns Hezbollah Over Military Built Up In Civilian Areas

Image for representational purposes only.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad’s air force committed new massacres in Aleppo yesterday. Explosive barrels were dropped in the Dahra Awad neighborhood in Aleppo and an area near a school in Khelsa town, Zetan and al-Hader towns in the Aleppo Province, the Observatory reported.

Forty civilians were killed in the airstrikes. The deaths include 17 children and three women. The aerial bombardment killed nine people from the same family; 8 of them children, and three others from the same family, including two children. Dozens others were wounded; some of them are in critical situation.

After these massacres, the regime media and pro-regime local media bragged that the air force killed dozens of “terrorists” in Aleppo and its countryside, and that “the gunmen confessed of the death of 90 militiamen in the last 24 hours during the Syrian army’s strikes.”

In the Qalamoun mountains, heavy fighting between Hezbollah, supported by Assad’s forces and the Iranian Al Quds Brigade, and Sunni Islamist forces continues.

Yesterday, Hezbollah succeeded in taking control over Tallit Musa, the highest mountain in Qalamoun. Jabhat al-Nusra-led Islamist forces were forced to pull back from the hill during a heavy aerial and artillery bombardment by regime forces and Hezbollah; the clashes led to the death of 85 people. Among the deaths were 18 Hezbollah fighters, 13 Syrian soldiers, and 36 fighters of the Jabhat al-Nusra-led coalition that is called the Army of Conquest Qalamoun.

The clashes between the two sides also continue in the western area of the Qalamoun mountains. There are reports of more human losses on both sides. A suicide car bomb exploded in eastern Qalamoun, and regime forces bombarded areas in the Qalamoun wastelands–specifically Zabdani and the area between Khan al_Shekh and Zakia in western Ghouta. Clashes are also taking place between regime forces and rebels in the eastern Ghouta and al-Taiba town, the Observatory reported.

In the south of the Qalamoun area, the al-Nusra led coalition attacked Hezbollah on a new front. “Fierce clashes raged between Hezbollah supported by regime troops and National Defense Force militiamen on one side and Islamist factions, including the Al-Nusra Front, on the other in the mountainous terrain around Rankous,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Wednesday.

The pro-opposition El Dorar News reported that the coalition “targeted the Abu Massoud al-Gharbi checkpoint (outside Rankous), killing everyone manning it and seizing all weapons, machinery and armored cars present.”

“The rebels also managed to take control of another checkpoint on the Rankous Plain, where they seized various munitions and a ZSU-23-4 Shilka armored vehicle.”

Hezbollah’s control of Tallit Musa gives it a major foothold in the area. The peak of the mountain overlooks the whole Qalamoun mountain range, including the Lebanese border town of Arsal. The capture of Tallit Moussa will also allow Hezbollah to control major crossings linking Qalamoun to Lebanese border towns.

The regime and Hezbollah would most likely attempt to wrest control over Wadi al-Zamarani and Wadi Ajram, which link Arsal to Syrian territory. The two valleys have been repeatedly used by Sunni Islamist groups, including ISIS, to infiltrate Lebanon and attack Lebanese villages over the past two years.

Meanwhile, the al-Nusra-led Islamist coalition launched an assault on Islamic State forces outside the Lebanese border town of Arsal. The Now Lebanon news site reported heavy fighting between the two groups two days after the Al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra coalition declared war on Islamic State.

The battle takes place only four kilometers away from the Lebanese Army Force’s (LAF) checkpoint near Arsal. The LAF has barred Lebanese farmers from entering their fields near the border.

Turkey’s Anadolu News said that the fighting between Nusra and ISIS outside the border town had been ongoing since the early hours of Wednesday.

Rocket and artillery weaponry was used in the clashes; the sound of blasts could be heard clearly in Arsal, the agency reported.

In a related development, the Israel Defense Forces invited foreign reporters for a briefing about Hezbollah’s build-up in southern Lebanon.

The IDF took an unusual step by showing reporters recent satellite images of Hezbollah positions in dozens of Shiite villages in southern Lebanon.

The photos were marked with dozens of red icons that signaled missile launchers, arms depots, underground tunnels, and command posts.

A senior IDF official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines, said an estimated 200 villages have been turned into “military strongholds.”

One photo showed the village of Muhaybib, with a population of around 1,000 people and 90 buildings, of which more than a third had been marked as Hezbollah assets. In the larger village of Shaqra, with some 4,000 people, Israeli intelligence identified Hezbollah targets in approximately 400 out of some 1,200 buildings.

The army refused to allow publication of the images.

“If war breaks out and Hezbollah fires missiles at Israel, these buildings will be targeted by Israel’s air force,” the official said, adding “Israel would give civilians time to evacuate.”

It is clear that Israel wanted to deliver a warning to Hezbollah (and Iran) following several provocations by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite organization and because of Hezbollah’s growing interference in the Syrian war.

Western Journalism reported earlier this week that Syrian sources claim Israel is now actively helping rebel forces in their struggle against the Assad regime and Hezbollah.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Israeli TV: Islamic State Less Than 20 Miles From Damascus Airport – Assad Panics

Earlier this week, Western Journalism reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have suffered a series of setbacks that are difficult to reverse. The tide of the war in Syria is turning against the Assad regime, we reported.

Today, Israeli TV Channel 1 reported that Islamic State forces are now less than 20 miles from Damascus Airport. Channel 1 Middle East expert Oded Granot said that Assad’s statement during his first public appearance in six weeks shows that he realizes that he is in trouble.

The Syrian dictator said that losing battles doesn’t mean that the war is lost, and that army troops would head to the outskirts of an insurgent-held town to help besieged soldiers holed up. The leader dismissed recent army setbacks as part of normal warfare.

Assad also said that his troops would redeploy in Western Syria in order to save his ancestral hometown of Latakia, the heartland of Assad’s minority Alawite community.

Assad urged his supporters to remain confident in the face of setbacks. He warned against “the spread of a spirit of frustration or despair at a loss here or there.”

“In battles… anything can change except for faith in the fighter and the fighter’s faith in victory,” he said. “So when there are setbacks, we must do our duty as a society and give the army morale and not wait for it to give us morale. Psychological defeat is the final defeat, and we are not worried,” he added.

Assad claimed that while the army was waging a relentless war across swathes of territory and gaining ground, there were occasions when the fighters had to “retreat when the situation warrants”.

In fact, his forces are losing ground every day.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported today that Rebel and Islamic battalions were able to gain control over areas of Mayda’a town in the Reef Dimasqh province after forcing regime forces to pull back from the area, the clashes accompanied by aerial bombardment, confirmed reports of losses in both sides.

The Observatory also reported fighting in the vital Homs and Hama provinces. Assad’s airforce used barrel bombs in the town of Om Sharshouh in Homs and al-Latamina in the Hama province.
After four years of devastating war and more than 220.000 deaths, some analysts have concluded that Assad’s regime may come to an end.

“The trend lines for Assad are bad and getting worse,” said a senior United States official in Washington who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity last week.

Reports are coming in that fissures have erupted within the regime and that the government has become largely dysfunctional. Assad recently fired his intelligence chiefs after they quarreled over the role of foreign fighters.

The war has also destroyed the economy. The regime’s economic survival is dependent on Iran, which is said to pump between $1 and $3 billion into the regime’s coffers every month. The foreign currency reserves of Syria have dwindled from $30 billion four years ago to a mere $1 billion now. The Syrian currency pound has also taken a huge hit, and foreign investment has come to a halt. All this has contributed to increasing discontent within the military.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah displayed increasing uneasiness with the situation in Syria. Lebanese media reported on Monday that the Hezbollah leader had warned that when Assad’s regime in Syria falls, Hezbollah will fall too. Nasrallah made his remarks during a meeting with Maronite Christian leader Michel Aoun.

Nasrallah told Aoun that the Syrian regime would be unable to take back all the territory rebel groups have seized. Nasrallah has lost a lot of his usual bravadoes lately. Last month, he also adopted a new, more moderate tone towards Israel when he said Hezbollah alone was incapable of bringing down the Jewish state.

“Are we supposed to lie to our people and ourselves, saying that we are capable of launching a war against Israel, wiping it off the map, and liberating Palestine?” the Hezbollah leader said in an interview on Syrian state television. “We are realistic. We are facing a real force.”

The assessment reflects a sharp change in attitude from his famous remark during a public speech a decade ago in which he claimed that Israel was “weaker than a cobweb” and would be swept away easily when the time comes.

In the television interview, Nasrallah also backtracked from past threats that, in the next round of fighting with Israel, Hezbollah would conquer the Galilee in northern Israel, saying he was only talking hypothetically.

I did not take an oath. I only said this could happen. In a future war, God forbid. But as for going all the way to Tel Aviv and Eilat—well, we do not have that capability and neither does any of the Islamic militias in the area. No resistance faction can be responsible for a war of such magnitude by itself, such a war would cause great damage throughout the region. A decision like this should be taken by partners who are capable of accomplishing the goal.

Nasrallah was referring to Iran, which is trying to set up camp in the vicinity of the Israeli border on the Golan Heights in Syria.

Today, Hezbollah launched an attack on the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra close to the border with Lebanon in western Syria. The attack could be the beginning of an attempt to alleviate pressure on Assad in Western Syria. At least four Hezbollah members, including a commander, were killed in the fighting.

Meanwhile, tensions remain high on the Israeli Golan Heights as a result of several cross-border attacks by Hezbollah and Islamist groups last week.

A senior IDF commander told Ynet analyst Ron Yishai that the Syrian Golan Heights is now dominated by “fifty shades of black.”

“It’s not just a metaphor,” Yishai wrote. “The color black is used on maps and computer screens to denote villages and areas controlled by Islamist groups tied to global jihad. In particular groups linked to the Al-Nusra Front or those who have recently declared their allegiance to Islamic State.”

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Assad’s Retreat Could Lead To Direct Confrontation Between Iran And Israel In Syria

Last week, Western Journalism reported a supposed change in Israel’s strategy towards the war in Syria after Israel reportedly bombed Syrian divisions and upgraded Scud missiles in the Qalamoun Mountain area:

The attacks on Assad’s Scud missiles could be a signal to Hezbollah and Iran that the rules of the game have changed –  and that Israel will do everything it can to stop an Iranian takeover of Syria.

Just like Saudi Arabia and Egypt decided to interfere in the civil war in Yemen in order to stop Iran’s rush for regional hegemony, Israel appears to be doing the same in Syria now–albeit on a smaller scale.

Israel is no longer trying to stop the shipment of missiles for the sake of prevention, but to deter the enemy from using Syria as a beachhead for an assault on the Jewish state. Some Israeli commentators said that the attack on the Syrian divisions was the result of intelligence that indicated that a new Hezbollah missile strike at the Golan Heights was imminent.

Two days after this article was published, Amir Mousavi, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Relations in Tehran and a former adviser to the Iranian Ministry of Defense, reported that “Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah officials will meet shortly to discuss their combined response to the Israeli attacks.” Mousavi said that Iran’s leadership will not remain silent.

Mousavi also said that Iranian troops would deter the “Zionist enemy” from further depot destruction and do so with major surprises that this “criminal entity” cannot anticipate.

Mousavi suggested that Tehran may step out from behind its Hezbollah curtain and openly place its own troops, the Al Quds Brigade, throughout southern Syria.

Some commentators think the Iranian move could be meant to free up Hezbollah so that it can prepare for a new war with Israel that may come sooner rather than later. Hezbollah has an estimated 130,000 missiles that threaten Israel. Israeli military experts think that when the next conflict starts, Hezbollah will launch as many as 1,500 missiles into Israel every day, making interception of the rockets much more difficult than during the war with Hamas last year. The same experts warn that Hezbollah will be able to reach targets everywhere in Israel.

There is, however, a more urgent reason for Iran to interfere more openly in the Syrian war. Last week, several media reports suggested that the tide of the war in Syria was turning against the Assad regime. The reports mentioned a series of setbacks that will be difficult to reverse for the regime in Damascus. As Western Journalism reported last week, a rebel coalition called Jaish al-Fatah conquered Idlib city and the army bases Qarmeed and Mastoumeh in the same area.

The coalition that consists of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahral al-Sham, and some smaller Jihadist groups scored additional victories when it took over the town of Jisral Shughour, close to the Turkish border, and continued with an attack on the Latakia province and Hama. Reuters reported over the weekend that the Islamist coalition is now battling Assad’s army close to Latakia, which is the heartland of the Allawite minority and Assad’s ancestral home. Latakia is the main port in Syria and, along with the capital Damascus, is one of the most important government-held areas in the country.

In the Damascus area, Islamic State took over the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp last month and set up camp in the town of Qahtaniya, two miles from the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

Further south, the Southern Front rebel coalition and Jabhat al-Nusra conquered the town of Bosra al-Sham and Naseeb, the last regime-controlled border crossing between Jordan and Syria.

The successes of the Sunni Islamist rebel groups in the north are contributed to by a greater cohesion and more coherent organization caused by more involvement by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In the south, the same thing happened to the Southern Front that is backed by the West and moderate Sunni states.

Assad’s main problem is the lack of manpower. He depends on the support of the Alawite minority, which is only 12 % of the Syrian population. In recent months, there have been reports that support for Assad among Alawites is in decline. In order to offset his shortage of manpower, Assad relied on his allies Hezbollah, Iran, and Shi’ite volunteers from Iraq and other Muslim countries.

To offset the lack of manpower, Assad also reduced the territory he wanted to hold. This was the reason he abandoned much of northern Syria in 2012.

It would be a mistake to think that the recent setbacks will spell the demise of the regime of the Syrian dictator anytime soon. Iran will not allow that to happen. Iran needs a contiguous area of land linking pro-Iranian Iraq to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but Tehran does not require the totality of Syria to preserve its vital interest in the country.

What we could expect now is that, as Mousavi said, “Iran will step in (again) and that Assad’s forces will be transferred to the north of Syria in order to defend the Latakia area and the vital Homs and Hama provinces.” In this scenario, Hezbollah and the Iranian Islamic Resistance Brigades would be deployed throughout southern Syria.

Such a move, however, will be a recipe for war.

As became clear last week, Israel is closely monitoring the developments in Syria and will not continue to sit on its hands while Iran and Hezbollah set up camp in the vicinity of the Israeli border. The days of the “let them bleed” strategy in Syria of Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon seem to be over, and a first direct confrontation between Iranian forces and the IDF is becoming more likely every day

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth