Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The rebels’ plan: From the borders to the capital | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Yesterday the Syrian rebels succeeded in breaching security near the regime’s chiefs of staff offices in central Damascus, and two weeks ago they attacked the heavily-guarded general headquarters of the same military establishment. These moves were preceded by the rebels’ most significant operation to date, when they infiltrated the national security building and blew up a meeting room with elite security and military leaders inside.

These repeated, qualitative operations reveal two things, firstly the growing strength of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and secondly that the regime is disintegrating from within, with leaders and individuals volunteering to help the rebels to plot against their own regime all over Syria. When the Syrian President appeared on television in a recent interview to reassure his followers, he said he was speaking from inside the presidential palace in Damascus – i.e. that he is not in hiding as has been rumored, and is most likely correct. Yet this implied that everything from beyond the walls of the presidential palace is no longer safe. The regime’s ministers and leaders seem to have disappeared completely, except for old archive images and footage that is repeated in the media.

With regards to the excruciating daily war between the regime’s forces and the FSA across Syria, the game has turned on its head. The regime’s army is no longer chasing the rebels; rather it is the rebels who are doing the attacking in planned and organized encounters. The FSA battalions have simultaneously attacked all Syrian border ports with the exception of one crossing into Iraq in the Kurdish region, and all others such as Abu Kamal, al-Yaqoubia, Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam have fallen into the hands of the Syrian rebels. The objective is to strangle the regime by depriving it of oil and military support, and especially those coming to its aid from Iran and Iraq, via the latter. The rebels in the north have begun to control the borders there and are granting visas for those crossing into the country like any legitimate government would do. Their influence also extends overland to the borders of the city Aleppo. Whilst the rebels are trying to choke the regime internally by cutting off the supply of gas and oil, they are not attacking power plants or refineries and are just targeting pipe networks and supply lines.

At the same time, the FSA, because it lacks missiles and ground defenses, has sustained heavy losses as a result of the regime’s forces using helicopter gunships and fighter jets, which have caused the displacement of about half a million Syrians from urban and rural areas. For this reason the FSA has changed its plan to attack airports, pilot training colleges and aircraft hangars. The rebels have launched concurrent attacks on Abu Aldhor air base in Idlib, the Abu Kamal air base in Deir al-Zour and the Rasm al-Abboud air force college near Aleppo. There have also been unsuccessful attempts to capture other crucial air bases, including those in the vicinity of Damascus and Aleppo, but the FSA has managed to disable them to some extent.

From the plan to close Syria’s borders, which has succeeded in stifling the regime over land, to the attacks on the country’s airports, air bases and weapons depots, the world has begun to realize that al-Assad’s forces, even after using all manner of heavy weaponry including planes, tanks and artillery, have failed to stop the advance of the FSA. The rebels, who are now rushing to attack Damascus because they realize that the fall of the capital will be the knockout blow for the regime, had limited success in their latest attack [on the chiefs of staff offices], and so now they will repeat their attempts within the context of what they call operation “Damascus Volcano and Syrian Earthquake”. It seems that they will make Damascus their goal in the weeks to come, especially if they can use the missiles and anti-aircraft weaponry that they have seized recently.

Politically, the position of al-Assad and his allies has become weaker than ever. The Russians used to mock him until recently, saying: Why are you worried…the regime is strong in Syria! I do not think they would dare to repeat those words now!