In Syria, The Hezbollah Declares Victory While The Fighting Rages On

Mohammad ZaatariAP

This Tuesday, the leader of the Lebanese organization Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has declared victory in the Syrian Civil War, going as far as to classify any remaining fighting as mere “scattered battles“, Reuters reports.

This announcement was compounded by Russian officials, who stated that the governmental forces of Bashar al-Assad had taken control of 85 per cent of the country’s territory. These assessments are surprisingly confident and seem to show a shift in the reality of the conflict.

This war began more than six years ago. For most of that time the governmental and rebel forces pushed back and forth in a constant tug-of-war that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Meanwhile, other factions entered the fray, like the Kurds and the Turks, and the conflict itself extended beyond the region, dragging in the U.S. and the Russian Federation, among other actors. At the same time the war also created a massive wave of refugees who surged into the neighboring countries and into Europe, prompting a widespread humanitarian crisis.

During the last few months the government-aligned forces, as well as the Kurds and the Turks, to the north, have been taking large swathes of territory from the dwindling Islamic State. Combined, all of these factors may signify that we are at the cusp of a new stage of the Syrian conflict.

Syrian governmental troops prepare to attack the IS. Picture provided by SANA.
[Image by SANA/AP Images]Featured image credit: SANAAP

The Assad family has ruled over the country since Hafez al-Assad rose to power in 1971. In 2000, Hafez’s son, Bashar, succeeded him after his death.

In March 15, 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring, demonstrators came to the streets to demand more democratic policies. At the time, the Syrian government was already claiming that the demonstrations were being stirred by foreign agents.

The riots and the governmental response quickly escalated into an unbridled spiral of violence that led to the chaotic situation the country has been known for during the best part of this decade.

The conflict also became embroiled in the wider divide between the major sects of Islamic faith, the Sunnis and the Shias. Many of the rebels forces operating in Syria, including the notorious Islamic State, are Sunni-aligned.

The Assads themselves are Alawites, a religious group politically aligned with Shia Islam. Because of such political connections and complementary objectives, Iran came to Damascus’ aid, as did the Lebanese organization Hezbollah, itself a creation of Tehran. Both were concerned with the rise of the Sunni militias in the Levant.

It is speculated that Iran intends expand its sphere of influence to the Mediterranean, which would give the country a larger political and economic importance. At the same time, Tehran also intends to contain its greatest rival, Saudi Arabia, and both countries are currently engaged in several proxy conflicts in and around the wider Middle East.

Another important source of aid to Bashar al-Assad is Russia, which brought in important military assets. Fighter jets were posted in airbases inside the country, and rebel positions were bombarded using large bomber airplanes and cruise missiles.

Russian Su-30 jets in the Hemeimeem airbase, in Syria.
[Image by Vladimir Kondrashov/AP Images]Featured image credit: Vladimir KondrashovAP

The intervention of Iran and Russia was essential to maintain Assad’s power, and for the eventual success of his campaign against the rebels. Both allies brought in troops and firepower which the Syrian Arab military forces could not hope to field by themselves.

However, the possible victory of Damascus in the war is something which is not seen with good eyes by other powers.

Western nations, like the U.S., have provided support to the rebels they claim to be moderate, including the Kurds. Such groups have received great quantities of military equipment, and Western military personnel is operating alongside them.

Meanwhile, NATO aircraft have been performing airstrikes on behalf of these forces. It was during one of these operations that a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 earlier this year.

But this arrangement is not without its downfalls. Turkey is opposed to the independence the Kurdish rebels expect to gain for themselves with their offensives into Syria. Even though both factions are allied with the U.S., they are also enemies, and confrontations have already happened.

One can argue that the only thing keeping the American-aligned forces working together is the Islamic State, as its aggressive and extremist stance gained the group the enmity of everyone else. With the IS being pushed back on all fronts, a change of the status quo seems to be in the horizon.

According to the BBC, some claim that a diplomatic solution to the war should be sought after the consummation of the military defeat of the IS. But such an option may be shaky at best.

Given the ideological and historical divides among the different factions involved in the fighting, one can expect that as soon as the major enemy is dealt with, the remaining rebel groups will turn on each other, while maintaining their fight against the government.

To the north, the conflict between Turks and Kurds is expected to escalate. It should be noted that one side is the second largest military force within NATO, and the other is an experienced guerrilla force now sporting large quantities of modern equipment.

Although the head of the Hezbollah has shown a great deal of optimism regarding the current circumstances of the Syrian Civil War and even dismissed the fighting that is yet to be done, one can assume that the violence will probably continue for a while longer.

[Featured Image by Mohammad Zaatari/AP Images]