‘Despite Qusair victory, Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis showing cracks’

Former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin says weakened alliance is good for Israel, but price is sporadic terrorist activity in the Golan

Syrian President Bashar Assad (center), shakes hands with a member of Iran's parliamentary committee on national interest and foreign policy, in Damascus, Syria, April 22, 2013. (photo credit: AP/SANA)
Syrian President Bashar Assad (center), shakes hands with a member of Iran's parliamentary committee on national interest and foreign policy, in Damascus, Syria, April 22, 2013. (photo credit: AP/SANA)

The Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis is showing cracks, but until the Syrian rebels unite and receive a steady supply of weapons, Syrian President Bashar Assad has high chances of survival, the former head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate, Amos Yadlin, said Saturday.

“This development [cracks in the axis] is beneficial for Israel, but the price is sporadic terrorist activity in the Golan Heights,” Yadlin said, during a Channel 2 interview.

He warned that terrorists will not have an easy time in the Golan as the IDF has steady control of the border, good intelligence, and precision-guided weapons.

“If Assad survives, it will be a clear victory for Iran. It will be a catastrophe for us and for the West,” said Channel 2’s Arab Affairs correspondent Ehud Ya’ari, in the same discussion, adding that he belongs to the camp that believes “better the devil you don’t know than the devil you do.”

Still, Ya’ari also pointed to problems within the axis, most notably Hezbollah’s precarious position amid harsh criticisms of the terror group by Sunni commentators and clerics.

“Hezbollah is in a pickle. There is a change of perception about the so-called “resistance group” in the Arab world. Its standing is taking an enormous hit,” said Ya’ari.

These remarks came on the heels of the announcement by Syrian state TV that government troops took control of the village of Buwaydah between Qusair and Homs after intensive clashes Saturday.

Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist in the old quarter of the city of Homs who has links with several rebel groups, said via Skype that rebels sustained heavy losses late Friday as they attempted to flee the village with their wounded and civilians. Al-Homsi asked to be identified by his alias because of security concerns.

Also on Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car in Syria’s central city of Homs, tearing through an area largely populated by the regime’s Alawite sect and killing seven people, a state-owned TV station reported. Meanwhile, government troops took control of a key village as the regime presses its offensive to clear a path between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast.

With the help of Hezbollah, President Assad’s regime has been chasing rebels from long-held strategic areas linking the capital, Damascus, with the government stronghold areas along Mediterranean coast. It gained momentum this week after seizing the strategic city of Qusair and the army has begun advancing north toward the cities of Homs and Aleppo.

The state-owned Al-Ikhbariya TV said the attacker detonated the explosives-laden car in a busy area near a roundabout in the Homs neighborhood of Adawiya, which largely houses Alawites, members of a minority sect that is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The report said the seven killed included three women and a teenager, and said 10 other people were wounded as the blast heavily damaged nearby houses and vehicles.

Television footage showed frantic residents running around, blood splattered on the ground and a badly mangled car. Other cars on the street were also damaged. A reporter from the station on the scene said the car was carrying about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of informants inside Syria, confirmed that the car was booby-trapped. It also said seven were killed, citing preliminary reports.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, but car bombs are the usual tactic employed by Sunni extremists among the rebel ranks.

The rebels are largely from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and have been joined by Sunni fighters from other countries, while the government is backed by fighters from the Shiite guerrilla Hezbollah group, making the conflict increasingly sectarian in nature.

Homs, the capital of the province of the same name, is home to one of the biggest Alawite communities in Syria and is widely seen as pro-Assad. The rebels are in control of the city center, including its old quarter, but are besieged by regime forces on the outskirts.

Many towns north of Homs also are rebel-controlled, but Hezbollah-backed government forces have been clearing rebels from villages and towns to the south. Fierce fighting in the area in the past three weeks has left dozens of rebels, troops and Hezbollah fighters dead and hundreds wounded.

Government forces also battled rebel fighters north of Aleppo and by a military air base that has been under rebel siege for weeks. Clashes in the suburbs of Damascus, meanwhile, left seven people dead, including a rebel and a medic who was treating an injured fighter, according to the Observatory.

The Lebanese Red Cross announced that it has evacuated 38 people who were wounded in Qusair from the Syrian border to hospitals in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley over the past two days.

The Syrian conflict started with largely peaceful protests against Assad’s regime in March 2011, but later degenerated into a bloody civil war that has killed more than 80,000 people, according to United Nations officials. It also has spilled over the borders with Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, and Iraq, threatening to ignite a broader regional conflict.

Syrian rebels briefly captured a crossing point along a cease-fire line with Israel in the contested Golan Heights. It was later recaptured by government troops, but the fighting prompted Austria to announce it was withdrawing its peacekeeping contingent from a UN force that patrols the Israeli-occupied area.

Russia had offered to send its troops to replace the Austrians at the Golan, but the United Nations said the disengagement agreement that established the cease-fire along the Israel-occupied Golan does not allow the participation of troops from a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

On Saturday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on his Twitter account that the cease-fire agreement was outdated and called on the UN Security Council to consider new arrangements.

If the UN Security Council “truly is concerned about the tension in the Golan Heights, sending a Russian military contingent there is the solution,” Gatilov wrote. “And there’s no need to refer to 40-year-old limitations. The tasks of supporting peace and stability require a different way of political thinking. Deciding which countries can join the UN contingent in the Golan is not within the competency of the UN General Secretary’s spokesperson. It’s an issue for” the Security Council.

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