Thursday, August 20, 2015

Syrian Rebel Forces Pressure Regime Heartland

by Christopher Kozak

Pro-regime populations in Tartus City, Latakia City, and the Shia-majority Sayyida Zeinab suburb of Damascus held rare street protests over the past eleven days which likely reflect a stream of latent dissatisfaction with the recent battlefield performance of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The demonstrations primarily called upon regime forces to relieve several besieged pro-regime enclaves scattered throughout northern Syria, and any major split between Syrian Alawites and the Syrian regime remains highly unlikely. Nonetheless, the Alawite population of the Syrian Coast faces mounting security concerns which likely drove this wave of public dissent. In recent weeks, heavy clashes between regime and rebel forces moved onto the strategic al-Ghab Plain of northwestern Hama Province, presenting a threat both to the borders of Latakia Province in general and the regional command-and-control node for both the Syrian Arab Army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps located in the town of Joureen. Several rebel factions participating in the fighting on the al-Ghab Plain, including Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and hardline Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, have repeatedly messaged their intent to strike deep into the Alawite heartland and overrun the Assad family hometown of Qardaha. These threats likely resonate with Syrian Alawites due to previous failed rebel offensives into Latakia Province in 2013 and 2014 which reportedly included mass killings and deportations of minority populations. In this context, the inability of pro-regime forces to achieve decisive victory in the al-Ghab Plain or prevent recent volleys of rebel shelling targeting Latakia City, Qardaha, and other prominent towns have likely further eroded public confidence in the long-term protection provided by the Syrian regime.