Ahead of the Friends of Syria meeting in Jordan on Wednesday, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expanded their presence on the ground in Syria to impose a new demographic reality.
This expansion was to help the embattled president and his supporters set the terms of negotiations for a political solution that is seemingly approaching.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have recently expanded their presence on the ground in Syria to impose a new demographic reality.Raed Omari
The Syrian regime’s troops, backed by fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and, no secret, the Iranian al-Quds Brigade (Failaq al-Quds), have been reported to be pushing determinedly and relentlessly into rebel-held territories, especially those on the borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, with the aim of making a strategic presence that can guarantee a good bargaining position during a negotiation process which, according to a high-ranking Western diplomat, is what the U.S. and Russia have agreed on to end the more than two years of strife in Syria.
While this will be discussed at the Amman meeting, the Syrian troops’ recent attack on the strategic rebel stronghold of Qusayr near the border with Lebanon and on positions adjacent to the Golan Heights will also be spotlighted.
But these intensive military operations have another demographic dimension. The regime’s forces fighting to secure a strong presence for Alawites in regions on the borders with Lebanon and Israel has to do also with al-Assad’s attempt – or actually Iran’s attempt – to keep the Shiite chain of Damascus, Tehran and Hezbollah in post-Assad Syria un-penetrated.
Via and not against Israel
Again, Assad’s forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah are pushing hard to secure a strong presence next to Israel, which has nothing to do with the liberation of Palestine as long vowed in Syria’s official rhetoric but more with keeping a pragmatic long-held influence that is sole in the interests of Iran, taking advantage of the West’s sensitivity on Israel’s security.
The Shiite triangle (Syria, Hezbollah and Iran) – or pragmatically the political coalition of the three powers plus the Nuri al-Maliki’s Iraq – knows that keeping a military presence on the borders with Israel can help immensely in any negotiations and thus safeguard Tehran’s interests in the region and that is why they are fighting relentlessly to remain there.
For Hezbollah and the Alawite regime, the struggle in Syria and on Syria is no longer and has never been political but on existence indeed.
To gain legitimacy in the Sunni-majority Syria, the Alawite regime – both the father and the son – have long presented themselves as defenders of the Arab causes, mainly the Palestinian question.
But this legitimacy, if ever granted, has decayed by time with the regime failing to liberate Palestine or at least restore the Syrian Golan Heights – if that is indeed its aim.
A dismantling chain
With the situation in Syria reaching a point of no return and with the U.S.-led anti-Assad camp determining to sooner or later arrive at a political formula to resolve the Syrian unrest (more likely a Syria without al-Assad on a deal with the Russians), the least for the Alawite regime, Hezbollah and Iran to keep their alliance and influence in the region and thus protects Tehran’s interests would be through maintaining a strong military presence beside Israel.
This influence would help Iran, as it once helped Syria in Lebanon, press for certain demands which so far seem irreversible – paramount of which is its nuclear program.
For Iran – and many Arabs are actually aware of that – the struggle in Syria is on maintaining its long-held status in the region as a ‘game-changer’ regardless of how many Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Iraqis would die for that cause.
A new Syria, divided between the minority Shiites and the overwhelming Sunnis – if not politically maybe demographically – is what Assad and his allies are hoping to gain from a political solution and that what is prompting them to swiftly expand on the ground before the expected conference on Syria is held.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via email@example.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2