Russia Helps Assad Reconquer Syria’s Heartland

Russian airstrikes are enabling the regime to retake territory from Syria’s least fanatical rebels.

A Russian military jet takes off from Bassel al-Assad International Airport in Latakia, Syria, November 5, 2015
A Russian military jet takes off from Bassel al-Assad International Airport in Latakia, Syria, November 5, 2015 (Russian Ministry of Defense)

Russian support is allowing Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to consolidate his control of the western part of the country by pushing back his least fanatical opponents.

Rebels of the self-styled Southern Front, a relatively moderate alliance that is supported by Arab states and the West, is fighting for its survival around Al-Shaykh Maskin, a town on the main supply route from the capital Damascus to Daraa, the largest city in the south.

The Syrian army and its opponents contested control of Al-Shaykh Maskin in late 2014 as well. Assad’s forces pulled out in December of that year after more than a month of fighting.

Meanwhile, in the north, loyalists conquered Salma on Tuesday, opposition sources said: a town northeast of Latakia’s coastal capital.

Russian airstrikes

Dozens of airstrikes were carried out in support of the assault. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime watchdog, said Russian officers were overseeing the offensive.

Russia intervened in the civil war last year, claiming to support Assad in his fight against fanatical Islamists like supporters of the self-declared Islamic State.

But from the start, Russian warplanes carried out far more bombings in the vicinity of Assad’s Alawite homeland in the northwest of Syria than over the desert lands that are in the hands of the Islamic State.

In recent weeks, Assad’s forces have carried out attacks in and around the provinces of Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Latakia in an effort to recapture territory and cut rebel supply lines.

They have seldom engaged the Islamic State’s fighters who mostly battle Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers across the border.

Israeli worries

The developments in the south worry Israel, the Financial Times reports. Along with the regular army advancing there are Iranian-backed Shia militias, including fighters from Hezbollah. The Lebanese group has recently engaged in tit-for-tat violence with Israeli troops on the frontier.

Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, Israel has carried out several airstrikes inside the Arab country against Hezbollah and other Iranian-allied forces.