2014 Roundup and 2015 Predictions by Aron Lund

lund2014 Roundup and 2015 Predictions
By Aron Lund
December 25, 2014 for Syria Comment

Lots of things happened in 2014, but the single most important development was the rise of the Islamic State as an independent actor in Syria and as a global bogeyman, shifting the terms of Western and Arab Syria debate. The split between the Islamic State and the rest of the rebels in Syria has changed dynamics within the Syrian opposition and forced other rebels back into the Western/Gulfie fold. It’s also slowly but surely alienating Jabhat al-Nosra from the rebel mainstream. The end result is a somewhat clearer bloc formation but also an overall weakening of the anti-Assad side, particularly the non-jihadi rebels in the north.

Even more, the IS capture of Mosul in June, which threatened to bring down the Iraqi state–already rotting from the inside–has changed the international and regional dynamics. Now we have a US-led international military intervention in both countries, with mission creep in one or more directions being almost inevitable over time. And with all eyes on the Islamic State, Western media/political debate are increasingly beginning to describe the Syrian war as a counter-terrorism issue and have lost track of the fundamentals in a rather worrying way. This might seem like good news for Bashar, and it is – but so far not good enough to rehabilitate his regime politically or make it strong enough to claw back the parts of Syria that it lost. We’ll see how this develops. (The US is already flying air support for the Syrian Arab Army in Deir al-Zor, but it’s not something we’re supposed to talk about.)

In 2015, there are a few things to watch, including of course the Aleppo situation and the UN freeze, the international aerial campaign and whether it will burst the Islamic State bubble or not, the various international realignments, and the (lack of) efforts to contain Lebanon’s northeastern meltdown. But if I were to point to one single factor that gets nowhere near the attention it deserves and that could suddenly turn Syria upside down, it’s the regime’s fraying base: finances, infrastructure, and perhaps manpower.

The fuel crisis and other internal systemic failures are growing and may at some point become unmanageable. It’s winter now and that’s of course part of the reason, but it seems more profound than that. From the looks of it, Bashar has simply run out of money and the infrastructure has deteriorated too far over four years of war. In addition, the IS is currently hitting key energy nodes like the Shaer fields and the US bombings in the east are sapping overall fuel supply. Iranian and Russian supplies are what has kept the regime afloat so far, but now their own economies are under terrific strain, due to the plunging oil price and sanctions. International humanitarian aid is not keeping up with rising needs either, and donor fatigue is already a major problem – 2015 will undoubtedly be worse. So, will the pressure ease up or not? If not, how long can this go on without something breaking?

Related to this, there’s an increasing number of reports about the dire manpower situation on the regime side. There are reports of the SAA rounding up young men in regime territory, renewed enforcement of travel bans for military-age males, and rumors of a general mobilization that – even if false – reflect a genuine concern. Why is this becoming an issue now? One reason is probably that Assad has trouble paying his footsoldiers, or that Iran and others aren’t chipping in in the same way they used to. Another is that Iraqi Shia militias have drifted back across the border to fight the Islamic State in their homeland since June. Another is that Bashar will need more people than he currently has to sustain an increasingly ambitious military posture: he wants to secure gains in Damascus/Homs, hold the fort in Hama and Deraa and the northwest, and also tip the scales in Aleppo. More fundamentally, the militiafication of the regime seems to have advanced to a point where it’s having trouble shifting forces around according to military needs. Even if Assad has tens of thousands of available reserves on paper, many of them are now essentially village guards and sectarian/tribal militias that won’t go voluntarily to fight outside their home areas and that would in many cases be fairly useless if compelled to do so.

To be clear, the regime remains at an advantage in purely military terms and seems to be within reach of a breakthrough in Aleppo – that’s a potential game-changer. And Bashar continues to reap the benefits of fighting an opposition so venal and dysfunctional that no one wants to help it to power anymore – except maybe Erdogan. That remains his trump card. But if Bashar was betting that time is on his side, it’s really not and this must surely affect regime calculations, now that the UN freeze plan, the rise of the Islamic State, and other international dynamics are starting to offer new political horizons.

Aron Lund,
editor of Syria in Crisis

Comments (19)


1. Aboud Dandachi said:

“Even if Assad has tens of thousands of available reserves on paper, many of them are now essentially village guards and sectarian/tribal
militias that won’t go voluntarily to fight outside their home areas and
that would in many cases be fairly useless if compelled to do so.”

The shabiha militia formerly headed by the current “Minister of Tourism” Besher el Yazgi was disbanded by the regime when they refused to leave their area of Husn (near the Krak de Chevaliers) and go fight near Kassab.

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December 26th, 2014, 2:48 pm

 

2. ALAN said:

The last year was marked by a number of important events in the Middle East and a number of other regions. Regime changes, armed conflicts, the rapid growth in the number of terrorist attacks — that is the outcome of the short-sighted policies employed by certain countries and Wahhabi states.

Many thanks for all efforts of the international community, both diplomatic and media ones, made in an attempt to reduce international tension, to minimize regional conflicts, especially the armed ones, to improve the political climate.

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December 26th, 2014, 3:08 pm

 

3. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Paranoia is a sickness and many syrians became paranoics about Israel. If the identity of a national project is based on the destruction of another then once there is an identity crisis there is no foundations to resist the changes. This is Assad’s Syria, they based all their legitimacy rethorics on Israel Evil but never were able to build a nation for all syrians. Just the contrary Israel did.

I always critiziced colonialist policies but one must admit facts if do not want to be mentally ill. And this is the main fact: Assad, Gadafi and Saddam failed totally in their political fight due to corruption, clientelism and lack of historical vision and respect for their own arab populations.

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December 26th, 2014, 3:32 pm

 

4. Uzair8 said:

The following tweet is consistent with some of what the main article above states.

Elie Elhadj @eeh100 ·15h
Oil is mightier than bombs.
GCC oil war altered ME power alignment.
Asad’s nightmare: Becoming too pricy for Putin/Iran 2 save.

https://twitter.com/eeh100/status/548379827464839168

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December 26th, 2014, 5:10 pm

 

5. Uzair8 said:

A post on Iran Military Forum today:

“The war in Syria is hung up. No major moves by the government. The terrorists are repositioning for another massive campaign against Syria. Qalamoun, Hermon, Latakia, Hama, Homs and Damascus seems to be active fronts soon like Aleppo, idlib and darra.”

http://www.iranmilitaryforum.net/military-conflicts/updates-on-military-action-in-syria/msg284484/#msg284484

So 2015 will likely be more of the same. Assad slowly being ground down.

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December 26th, 2014, 6:20 pm

 

6. ALAN said:

Be prudent Uzair! Do you think that the readers will believe that the Syrian regional alliance is a bubble of soap! Stop spreading illusions you and others here dreamers

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December 26th, 2014, 6:30 pm

 

7. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Iran and Russia falling in the black hole of oil prices.

Assad will need to move to Dubai where he owns properties for the value of billions of dollars. But instead of selling all properties for “saving” the Syrian Nation he will remains in Dubai for the rest of his days enjoying the “savings” he did when he was the “democratically elected president of all syrians with no distiction of creed (LOL)”.

In my opinion pirates aides of Assad must hijack him and ask Dubai banks all the money he owns in UAE as a random.

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December 27th, 2014, 4:21 am

 

8. Norman said:

Question: I’ve read elsewhere, that Israel is providing medical assistance to IS in Israel, perhaps even more? Also, if the U.S. is providing some air coverage to Assad, while the Israelis are bombing same near Damascus, seems like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? As far as rot/corruption is concerned, that seems to be prevalent throughout the so-called civilized world today, which brings to mind: “people who live in glass houses, shouldn’t through rocks at others”.

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December 27th, 2014, 8:56 am

 

9. watani sourya said:

You might factor in Hizballah’s impending clash with the Hariri tribunal, and the ensuing problems that will also affect Assad and his regime.

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December 27th, 2014, 10:09 am

 

10. ALAN said:

NORMAN, SIMOHURTTA

The same people they were welcome Qassioun bombed with nuclear weapons. http://youtu.be/eWNmwpTuBfw .They specifically Syrians Zionists

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December 27th, 2014, 10:11 am

 

11. Norman said:

ALAN, thank you for the link. I had to refresh my old mind, as I recall the post. 2015 certainly looks to be exceptional, considering the plays being made at present.

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December 27th, 2014, 10:37 am

 
 

13. Norman said:

Interesting, to say the least. I thought this was a past point, one that seemed to disappear years ago. I wonder, I think I’m a bit older than the speaker, though I agree with what he speaks, but don’t really know how this could come about. The idea has been marginalized and isn’t open too many, or at least that was my experience in my younger days. I will say this, one has to be very careful today, since the Government considers everyone to be suspect, but then, as the saying goes, there may be a loophole there, big enough to drive a semi through. Thanks again for the link.

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December 27th, 2014, 3:54 pm

 

14. ALAN said:

Norman
This came after several uses dual Russian-Chinese veto. http://youtu.be/24ltPixsIGQ َThe Qassioun attack was done by the signal from the Pentagon to Israel to meet demand using nuclear and after that to look at the reaction. Subject to reflect.

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December 27th, 2014, 5:28 pm

 

15. Norman said:

I have to wonder if the Pentagon really knows what they are doing? And whose idea to police the world. Failure is just that. Who in the government is running the show, because it appears it’s a free for all there. As I’ve already said about 2015 being interesting. As for H.C., she doesn’t know which end is up, but knows where the money is.

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December 27th, 2014, 9:02 pm

 

16. Ghufran said:

This is from a deader at Aksalser ( opposition site)
من شهر حزيران 2011 لحد هاللحظة جماعة ثورة الحرية و الكرامة بيقولوا كم شهر و رح ندعس عالطاغية و سوريا رح تصير حرة. بتقلو النظام الو مؤيديين برى و جوا يعني رايحيين لحرب اهلية و رح تخرب البلد بيجاوبك انك شبيح و الثورة رح تبيد النصيرية بمال السعودي ودعم التركي وبجهاد الشيشاني بتقلو اخي النصيرية صار الون الف سنة ما رح ينبادوا و هنن بالآخر سوريين مصلحتك معون مو مع الغريب بجاوبك انو سوريا مُحتلة من ايران و الله و تركيا والناتو معنا … اواخر سنة 2011 بمقابلة على قناة البي بي سي ضابط من الجيش الحر بيقول لن نتوقف عن قتال النظام حتى نجيب حق العشرة الاف شهيد يلي سقطوا بالثورة و نرجع النازحيين بتقلو المذيعة بس ما بتخاف تتحول سوريا لدولة فاشلة بتدمير الجيش قال لاء شغلتنا شهرين بالكتير و خالصين … هي صاروا الشهداء بمئات الالوف و النازحيين بالملايين و سوريا مو بس دولة فاشلة و لكن لن تقوم لها قائمة حتى اذا سقط النظام الآن لانو الثوار مجاهدين الحرية بلشوا ببعض قبل سقوط النظام و رح يستمروا هيك لامد طويل جدا … الله **** هيك فوضى
With rare exceptions the armed uprising has injected poison in its own medicine when it allied itself with Islamist terrorists and regional powers that have no interest in advancing the cause of freedom and democracy. Mouth pieces for rebels on this site started their sectarian posting as early as the summer of 2011 and that was followed by mr Ziadeh’s famous illusionary plan for future Syrian government where he essentially assumed that Syrians will allow cartoon characters like him to decide their future based on which sect they belong to, I can not wait to hear again from that clown and his likes after much of Syria is destroyed and his heroes are either in Turkey or have joined Isis and nusra for better salaries. Things are so bad that the main concern of the GCC- Turkey alliance is how to rehabilitate nusra and remove it from terrorism list !!
ثوره غير شكل ما شالله

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December 27th, 2014, 11:03 pm

 

17. ghufran said:

It was 2011 when few people here warned about the Libyan “solution” carried out by NATO, the GCC and Islamist thugs.
Sadly enough, the predictions of 2011 were proven true and right on the money:
Welcome to the post Qaddafi Libya, a country in a state of civil war despite the fact that 99% of the population are Sunni Muslims.
Libya will be a burning flame that will shame NATO and Islamist thawrajiyeh for generations to come, it is a proof that NATO, GCC and militant Islam is the problem and not the solution and that the existence of dictatorships is just an excuse for those powers to serve their interests at the expense of people.
ليبيا “المحررة” من قبل قوات الناتو تحترق ولم يعد فيها اي مكان آمن، حتى آبار النفط وخزاناته ومرافئه التي كانت السبب الرئيسي للتدخل العسكري، وليس امام المواطن الليبي الذي من المفترض ان تكون رفاهيته واستقراره وتمتعه بثروات بلاده غير الهجرة الى دول الجوار المصري والتونسي للحفاظ على حياته.
لا احد يتحدث عن الثورة في ليبيا، ولا احد يستطيع ان يميز بين الثوار انفسهم او يتعرف عليهم ويقوم بعملية “فرز″ بين الصالح والطالح، الجيد وغير الجيد، فقد اختلطت المعايير والتصنيفات حسب الارضية الايديولوجية التي يقف عليها الشخص.
في ليبيا برلمانان وحكومتان وعدد لا يحصى من الميليشيات، والكل يدعي الشرعية، ويجد من يصدقه، ويقف معه ويحارب في صفوفه.

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December 28th, 2014, 11:44 am

 

18. SANDRO LOEWE said:

17 GHUFRAN

Lybia is the proof that mafias working as Russia and Iran tentacles are very effective.

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December 28th, 2014, 12:01 pm

 

19. What if No One Is Winning the War in Syria | syriano said:

[…] the Syrian regime suffers from dwindling resources and a severe manpower deficit, and Assad’s international allies are hurting from low global oil […]

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June 20th, 2015, 5:57 pm

 

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