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Don’t celebrate Assad’s victory too soon

I would say that Assad rejoices his victory in the civil war in Syria as much as the U.S. rejoices its victory in Afghanistan

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

It’s true that if Iran hadn’t taken a strategic decision to save Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the latter would not have even lasted until the New Year of 2013. If Iran hadn’t employed its regional militias, such as Hezbollah, Assad would not still be in his palace. This explains the joy and boasts of Iranian military leaders, including the attitude of the air force commander who bragged that Iran is the one that decided to save Assad’s regime. This is what made Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah also repeat similar statements during an interview with Lebanese daily al-Safir. Nasrallah said it was not a mistake to intervene in Syria, but it was a mistake to intervene late.

It seems this is what ignited tension between Syria and its allies. The Iranian and Hezbollah’s statements, however true they may be, are embarrassing Assad and his army. Bouthiana Shaaban, the Syrian presidential advisor, was quoted as saying that victory is thanks to Assad’s army - not to Iran or Hezbollah. It was later revealed that the Syrian regime imposed restrictions on Iranian television stations and other stations isupporting Iran so as to prevent them from attributing victories to the parties other than the Syrian government. Some went as far as saying that in order for the Syrian regime to intimidate them and deter them, it planned the murder of journalists from Hezbollah’s al-Manar channel who went to cover events in Maaloula without permission from the Syrian government.

But the question is not about who is behind the victory. The question is: has the Assad regime really won? The president claims his government has won, Nasrallah has repeated it and the Iranian military command said it was the Islamic Republic’s decision!

The U.S. State Department issued a confusing statement as usual. It said it doesn’t agree with what Assad said and that it doesn’t want to make a prediction regarding the outcome of the war. No one knows what this means.

No reason to celebrate

Despite distributing candy and celebrating victory in Damascus, as well as victory celebrations in Tehran, Moscow and Hezbollah’s suburb of Lebanon, I would say that Assad rejoices his victory in the civil war in Syria as much as the U.S. rejoices its victory in Afghanistan. These are temporary victories and their ends will be different because facts on the ground are more important than the results of day-to-day battles.

I would say that Assad rejoices his victory in the civil war in Syria as much as the U.S. rejoices its victory in Afghanistan

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

First of all, Assad’s forces and his allies’ militias only control one third of Syria today, and they don’t even fully control this one third. If they resume the war in the rest of the country, they would be exhausted. This might also consume a lot of time - time that foreign forces in support of Assad, like Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, Iraqi factions and other militias which went to Syria upon Iranian orders, cannot tolerate. It’s a dangerous war of attrition for all participants, except for al-Qaeda groups which arrived in the country on a one-way ticket as they are willing to fight to death.

Second of all, the reality on the ground has changed and the relationship between the regime and the people has been broken. The Syrian army, which remained under Assad’s command, shrank as a result of defections and losses over the past three years. Also, Assad and his army, security forces and allies represent a small sectarian minority controlling a big majority – 70 percent of the country are Sunnis. The Syrian citizen, due to blind and collective murder, no longer views Baathist concepts as synonymous with national aims. This hostility will extend the war against the regime until the latter falls. I think the exhausted regime will fall before that as it’s become a burden and it will remain dependent on the Iranian regime and its militias.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 16, 2014.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.