World View: Syria’s al-Assad Regime Suffers Major Military Setback in Idlib

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This morning’s key headlines from

  • Syria’s al-Assad regime suffers major military setback in Idlib
  • Arab League positions harden against Houthis and Iran

Syria’s al-Assad regime suffers major military setback in Idlib

Al-Nusra fighters, one carrying an al-Nusra flag, celebrate in central Idlib (Reuters)
Al-Nusra fighters, one carrying an al-Nusra flag, celebrate in central Idlib (Reuters)

A group of seven jihadist factions, led by the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front), appear to have seized the city of Idlib, dealing a major blow to the regime of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, who recently declared that Idlib would be freed. The Syrian army forces collapsed rapidly after four days of heavy fighting, according to the jihadists. They were able to make use of American-made TOW missiles that the US had previously provided to friendly anti-Assad rebels. The TOW missiles were used to neutralize Syrian tanks.

Al-Nusra is an al-Qaeda linked group, and is in fact the “official” branch of al-Qaeda in Syria. It did not join the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) when the latter broke away from al-Qaeda two years ago. The al-Qaeda linked groups and ISIS are theoretically allies fighting the al-Assad regime, but they also get into battles with each other, and there may be a major battle shaping up over who’s going to control more of Syria.

Idlib is a the capital of the northwestern province named Idlib. The city has 165,000 people and is close to the main highway linking Damascus to Aleppo and to the coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad. The jihadists were jubilant after victory, posting videos of themselves taking down al-Assad posters, and yelling “Alluha Akbar!”

This is the second time in a week that al-Assad has been humiliated by an al-Nusra victory. Last week, al-Nusra captured the ancient and strategic town of Busra Sham in southern Syria.

Idlib is the second major provincial capital that the al-Assad regime has lost to jihadists. Al-Nusra captured another provincial capital, Raqqa, but it was subsequently seized from al-Nusra by ISIS, and has now become the headquarters of ISIS.

With the world focused on ISIS, al-Nusra has quietly consolidated its power in Syria. Al-Nusra now controls a large stretch of land from the border with Turkey to southern Syria. Control of Idlib means that jihadists can freely move back and forth between Turkey and Syria. Some analysts believe that Turkey is funding some al-Qaeda linked groups because its major objective is the defeat of al-Assad. The National (UAE) and Belfast Telegraph and Long War Journal

Arab League positions harden against Houthis and Iran

“Operation Decisive Storm,” which is the name of the 8-country military operation to bomb Houthi targets in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia, entered its fourth day on Saturday night.

Leaders of the Arab League nations used extremely belligerent language in referring to the Houthis and Iran, with the King of Saudi Arabia calling the Houthis the biggest threat to the stability and security of the region, presumably implying that they are more dangerous than the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh).

The leaders backed up the belligerent language with commitments to continue the assault on the Houthis in Yemen. This indicates that positions are becoming extremely hardened.

Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, the president of Yemen who has been forced to flee the country, called the Houthis “stooges of Iran,” and said:

I call for the continuation of Operation Decisive Storm until this gang [the Houthis] announces its surrender, exits all occupied territories in the provinces, leaves state institutions and military camps.

Operation Decisive Storm will continue until all the goals are achieved and the Yemeni people start enjoying security and stability.

Obviously, there is a lot of wishful thinking here, since the Iran-backed Houthis are not going to surrender without a great deal more bloodshed.

Egypt’s president Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi said:

This nation [Yemen], in its darkest hour, had never been faced a challenge to its existence and a threat to its identity like the one it’s facing now. This threatens our national security and [we] cannot ignore its consequences for the Arab identity.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is leading the assault on the Houthis, said:

Saudi Arabia did not spare any effort to address the situation in Yemen. Houthi intransigence, pursuit of power and control, rejection of all initiatives and their aggression against the Yemeni people led to the military operation. The Houthi militants elicited support of foreign powers to threaten the region’s security.

We hoped not to resort to this decision (the operation) … The Houthi’ aggression is the biggest threat to the stability and security of the region.

The Saudi kingdom has taken the lead with some 100 warplanes. Other coalition partners are providing additional warplanes, the coalition partners include the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan and Egypt. There are reports that Saudi ground troops may enter Yemen within a few days.

Egypt’s al-Sisi is calling for a unified Arab force to deal with the increasing list of crises, including Libya and Syria. The proposed force would be made of up to 40,000 elite troops and will be headquartered in either Cairo or Riyadh, the Egyptian and Saudi capitals. The force would be backed by jet-fighters, warships and light armor.

Some analysts are expressing doubt that this Arab military coalition will last very long, dissolving with a few days or weeks. That’s certainly a possibility, but from the point of view of Generational Dynamics, another view must be emphasized: If this were the 1990s, (a generational “Unraveling” era), then the coalition probably would dissolve quickly. But in today’s generational Crisis era, the public mood is very different than it was in the 1990s. Today, with the survivors of World War II gone, the public mood is increasingly nationalistic, xenophobic, and belligerent. So it’s quite possible (though not certain) that this coalition will become even more bellicose, and that the war in Yemen will spread to other sites. Generational Dynamics predicts that there will be a full-scale war in the Mideast, pitting Arabs versus Jews, Sunnis versus Shias, and various ethnic groups against each other. Al Jazeera and CNN and AP

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Idlib, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Nusra Front, Busra Sham, Raqqa, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Arab League, Yemen, Houthis, Saudi Arabia, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, Egypt, Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi, Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud
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