Shortly after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledged Sunday, May 19, to maintain Israeli operations in Syria against the passage of advanced Iranian weapons to the Lebanese Hizballah, Syrian troops and their Hizballah comrades stormed Al-Qasayr, the northwestern town which commands the high road from Syrian Homs to Lebanon’s Hermel Mountains.
This was a major victory: Iranian arms for Hizballah can now go through from Syria to destination unobstructed.
In more than two years of battling the Assad regime, this was one of the rebels’ most devastating losses after three weeks of bitter fighting and the last of a whole row of recent setbacks.
Bashar Assad in contrast has gained huge advantages from his al Qusayr victory, as debkafile’s military sources report:
1. It cuts off the Syrian rebels’ main supply and communications route via Lebanon through which their Arab backers Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE to send them fighters, arms and funds.
2. Rebel positions in the nearby town of Homs become increasingly vulnerable, as the Syrian army regains control of the main highway links between Damascus, Homs and Aleppo.
3. After the rebels were pushed out of Al-Qasayr, Turkey remains their only accessible source of supplies.
However, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has made a sudden U-turn. He had promised publicly to lobby for no-fly zones in his meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House Friday, May 17, to shield rebel forces in different parts of the country from Syrian air strikes. Instead, Edrogan threw his support between the international conference sponsored by Washington and Moscow for resolving the Syrian conflict.
This told the rebels that the supportive Turkish channel was closing down.
It is obvious to them that the conference can only succeed if Washington comes over to the Russian-Iranian-Hizballah side and agrees to the perpetuation of the Assad party’s role in any future government.
As yet, neither of the contestants has agreed to attend the conference for which no date has been set. However, Turkish backing and arms supplies through its territory are expected to shrink progressively to squeeze the rebels into accepting a formula which would be tantamount to bowing to the defeat of their uprising.
4. For Israel, the fall of al Qusayr means that while rebel supply routes are shut down, supply routes open up for the free movement of Iranian weapons from Syria straight to HIzballah strongholds in Lebanon. This would be Hizballah’s reward for its military aid to Assad’s army.
If Prime Minister Netanyahu was serious about his promise Sunday to cut off Hizballah’s weapon routes from Syria, he has three primary options to choose from – none of them easy, to say the least.
a) Military intervention in al Qusayr before the Syrian army and Hizballah clinch their takeover of this strategic byway town. This would catapult Israel into full-blown war with Syria and Hizballah and is therefore a non-starter.
b) Bombardment of the convoys carrying arms from Syria to Lebanon.
This won’t do much good. Having learned its lesson from the three Israeli air strikes against arms convoys and depots this year, Syria has now transferred the hardware disassembled into component parts and passed them out among smuggling rings to move them under cover of dark into Lebanon.
c) Attacks on the destination of those weapons – Hizballah depots in the Hermel – after their delivery. This would almost certainly trigger Hizballah war action against Israel.