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The battle for Quneitra crossing is critical for Assad and Israel

February 14, 2014 at 9:13 am

A leading Middle East commentator has claimed that the proximity of Quneitra to the border with Israel makes the battle for the town of great strategic importance for the Syrian army. Writing in Haaretz newspaper, Zvi Bar’el noted that it is also “critical” from Israel’s perspective, but suggested that even if the Assad regime regains control of the crossing, “it won’t win them the war against the rebels”.

The Israeli journalist said: “Control of the crossings between Syria and its neighbours was determined months ago, when the rebels seized most of the crossings with Turkey and Iraq, along with some of the crossings to northern Lebanon.” These successes, he explained, were important to assure the supply of combatants, weapons, and ammunition to the rebel forces and to demonstrate their “sovereignty” over the land link between Syria and the other countries in the region. “Quneitra is not a supply route and so carries little importance for the rebels.”

Although, continued Bar’el, it is true that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad gave a free hand to anyone who wants to start up with Israel on the Golan Heights, “in practice the last thing he wants is to give Tel Aviv an excuse to attack Syria because forces over which he has no control start firing at Israel.”

In contrast, Bar’el thinks that the seizure of the town of Al-Qusayr was a blow to the rebels’ morale, and a tactical and perhaps strategic turning point as well. The town had become a symbol of the revolt, to the extent that some described it as the rebels’ Stalingrad. Al-Qusayr is considered to be a significant rebel defeat and its loss is already causing disputes within the Free Syrian Army, whose units are exchanging accusations of blame for the military failure. Bar’el also referred to the timing, as the West, Russia, Turkey, Iran and some of the Arab states are planning to convene the Geneva conference, and it was important to the rebels to demonstrate military capabilities that were capable of tipping the scales in favour of Western military assistance.

Assad’s victory in Al-Qusayr plays directly into the hands of Russia and Iran, says the journalist, as they can now claim that the Syrian regime is regaining control and that it should be helped in order to stabilise the country.

Bar’el concludes that Assad’s victory in Al-Qusayr is not the end of the conflict, as the regime’s army is planning a major assault on the city of Aleppo and the northern sections of the city of Homs, and must also face the rebels in the southern city of Dara, and other pockets of rebel forces north of Homs. As a result, after the battle at Al-Qusayr, it looks as if the strategic resolution of this conflict “is dependent on the decisions of the Western and Arab states, and therein lies the strategic paradox as these countries will have to estimate the chances of the rebel army winning before they decide whether to provide aid; that will pretty much determine the chances of the rebel army to win.”