Syrian President Bashar Assad, with Iran’s help, has attained most of the regime’s territorial goals and effectively won the civil war against the Sunni rebel forces, an Israeli diplomatic official told The Times of Israel on Thursday.
“Assad has secured 70-80 percent of essential Syria,” the official said, sketching a line from Aleppo in the north down through Hama, Homs, Damascus and the southern areas near Jordan and the city of Dara’a – a Syrian city where the war began and, currently, a channel through which Sunni extremists enter Syria from Jordan.
The capital, too, he said, remains very much in the hands of the regime. “The existential threat on Damascus has been lifted.”
Only the Kurdish regions have slipped irretrievably beyond Assad’s control, he added.
The official’s depiction of the situation in Syria contradicts an assessment given by a top defense official, who in May told several journalists that Assad’s forces have lost the entire Golan Heights, aside from Quneitra and one enclave, and that, “In Aleppo, in Damascus, in the north near the Turkish border, in the Golan Heights – in all of these places he is losing.”
The war in Syria has claimed some 165,000 lives since its outbreak in March 2011 and forced millions of Syrian’s to flee their homes and their country. Lebanon, for instance, has been radically altered by an influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees who currently constitute 25 percent of the Lebanese population.
The diplomatic official said that the Sunni exodus from the country has “changed the demography in Assad’s favor,” and suggested that Assad, who has the support of most of the Druze and Christian minorities in Syria, did relatively poorly in this week’s national election, if one takes into account, among other factors, the nearly seven million displaced people and refugees who were not able to reach the ballot boxes. Assad ostensibly won over 88% of the votes, with more than 10 million in his favor. The official said he did not believe the figures, and also cited a survey suggesting that 88% of the refugees would have voted against him if they’d had the chance.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, noting that voting booths were stationed only in government-controlled areas, called the election “a great big zero,” because “you can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have an ability to vote.”
The Iranian influence in Syria, the Israeli diplomatic official said, was unaltered by President Hassan Rouhani’s rise to power, and a nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers, he added, will only encourage Iran to act more aggressively in pursuit of its goals in Syria.
The war effort is largely coordinated by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officers, he said, and carried out by loyalist troops and the 3,000-4,000 Hezbollah guerillas in Syria. A Baseej-like force of citizens loyal to the regime, the National Defense Army, has been established at the local level and is 60,000-people strong.
An indication of Hezbollah’s success, he asserted, was not merely the strategic territory held in places like Qusair, but the fact that in Lebanon the dominant concern today is the threat of Sunni jihadist fighters and not Hezbollah’s involvement in the civil war next door.
The official alluded to some of the difficult choices made by Hezbollah in recent years – the unpopular decision to fight in Syria, revealing the depth of its ideological ties to Iran and largely forsaking the fight against Israel – and said that while the Shiite terror organization is close to emerging victorious from the conflict, Israel remains very much ambiguous about its goals in the regional war. “We know what we don’t want,” he said, “but not what we do want.”