Syria: Both Sides Brace for Battle


A fighter from the Sadik unit of Free Syrian Army’s Tahrir al Sham brigade fires his Steyr AUG rifle from inside a house during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus, in this 22 January 2013 file photograph. (Photo: Reuters – Goran Tomasevic)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Publishe Friday, March 8, 2013

The armed opposition in Syria has been stepping up its activities in recent weeks. Reports confirm the growing sophistication and increased shipments of weaponry supplied to the opposition.

Meanwhile, huge numbers of Syrian fighters are being trained in domestic camps, as well as in Turkey, Jordan, Libya, and parts of Iraq and Lebanon. Diplomatic sources note that some are undergoing specialist training in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. At the same time, security sources affirm that Arab and Western intelligence agencies have bolstered their covert presence in Syria.

Opposition activists have indicated that there are two parallel reasons for the boost in training, weapons, and funds.

The first is to improve the rebels’ military capability and raise their morale, in hope of enabling them to achieve major battlefield successes and halt the gains made by the regime’s forces.

The second is to try to unite as many armed factions as possible and enable them to counter the growing influence of al-Nusra Front. This is in line with the long-running quest by Arab and European intelligence agencies to contain al-Qaeda and its offshoots. It’s also intended to drum up worldwide support for the rebels amid growing fears that they are replicating the experience of Afghanistan or Somalia.

One specific goal is targeting top-ranking Syrian leaders. They are convinced that Assad’s assassination would lead to the instant implosion of the regime. The other side has been actively taking counter-measures while drawing up contingencies for dealing with such an event.
Israel is known to have been involved in operations of this kind in Syria – even if many in the Syrian opposition do not like to hear about such things. The fingerprints of its security agencies have been found on several recent assassinations.

The regime and its backers are not taking all this quietly. They have been equally active in efforts to improve the performance of its forces, both by ensuring the army is well-supplied and heavily manned.

Plans to upgrade the operational and intelligence capability of the security forces also appear to have had considerable effect. Improved technology has since helped foil two offensives against Damascus and its surroundings while enabling regime forces to make gains around Homs and Aleppo.

Procedures for decision-making by military commanders on the ground, and coordination between ground and air forces, also seem to have changed. New combat methods have been introduced with the aim of reducing civilian casualties in rebel-held areas.

While the armed groups seek to achieve a big battlefield success, the regime is seeking to hold their current positions. This is intended as a prelude to a large-scale offensive to reconnect rebel-held areas around Damascus, Homs, and southwest of Aleppo.

Political contacts between regional and international players remain frozen. That is why the combatants are preparing for war, and why we can expect violent confrontations whose purpose is to set the terms for an eventual compromise.

That will be the ‘real deal.’ It cannot possibly differ from the wartime deals in Lebanon and Iraq, which brought stability to the regime but not to the country.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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