It’s always about Aleppo.
Here’s what’s going on, essentially, on the
ground. West Aleppo is controlled by Damascus, via the Syrian
Arab Army (SAA).
Some of the northern parts are controlled by
the Kurds from the PYD – which are way more engaged in fighting
ISIS/ISIL/Daesh than Damascus. The PYD also happens to be
considered an objective ally by the Obama administration and the
Pentagon, much to the disgust of Turkey’s ‘Sultan’ Erdogan.
East Aleppo is the key. It is controlled by
the so-called Army of Conquest, which includes Jabhat al-Nusra,
a.k.a. Al-Qaeda in Syria, and the Salafi outfit Ahrar al-Sham.
Other eastern parts are controlled by the “remnants” (copyright
Donald Rumsfeld) of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who refused to
collaborate with the Army of Conquest.
Across the Beltway, all of the above are
somewhat considered “moderate rebels.”
The most important recent development in the
Aleppo battlefield is that the SAA – with key Russian help – has
killed Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Suleiman al-Masri, a.k.a.
Mahmud Maghwari, an Egyptian who’s been on Cairo’s kill list for
Additionally, several hundred Iraqi Shi’ite
fighters, under the supervision of superstar Iranian Quds Force
commander Qasem Soleimani, have been transferred from Latakia to
And a roughly 3,000-strong, battle-hardened, armored Hezbollah
brigade is also coming.
What is shaping up is a kind of southern
offensive. These forces will all be converging not only towards
Aleppo but, in a second stage, will have to clear the terrain
all the way to the Turkish-Syrian border, which is now a de
facto Russian-controlled no-fly zone.
The supreme target is to cut off the supply
lines for every Salafi or Salafi-jihadi player – from
“moderate rebels” to ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. That’s the meaning of
Moscow’s insistence on the fight against all brands of terror,
with no distinction. It does not matter that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is
not the main player in and around Aleppo.
For all practical purposes the whole Syria
campaign is now under Russian operational, tactical and
strategic management – of course with key Iranian strategic
The Russia-Syria-Iran-Iraq-Hezbollah coalition
in Syria – also linked with the “4+1” intel center in Baghdad –
stands a great chance of winning the next Battle of Aleppo if
they fulfill three conditions.
1) Russian air cover coordinating with on the
ground intel for all operations (that’s a given); 2) Popular
support (that’s also a given; the Sunni urban population in
Aleppo, mostly businessmen, support Damascus); 3) Experienced
ground troops numbering at least 15,000 (on the way, considering
the input from Iraq and Hezbollah).
Predictably, there’s another coalition which
is not exactly pleased with the way the battlefield is shaping
Aleppo’s main power station, 25 kilometers
east of the city, for the moment is controlled by ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
Demented as it may seem – still, the whole Syria tragedy is
demented - there is an informal agreement between Damascus and
the fake “Caliphate”; the goons get 60 percent of the
electricity, and the government gets 40 percent. After all,
everyone, even beheaders, soft or otherwise, needs energy.
So how did the ‘Coalition of Dodgy
Opportunists’ – which
includes Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar alongside the US -
help in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh? Well, they bombed the
Aleppo power plant a little over a week ago. This means bombing
Syria’s civilian infrastructure – a blatantly 2003 shock and
awe-style crime - whose victims are mostly the “Syrian people”
so cherished by ‘Exceptionalistan’.
What happens in the battlefield in and around
Aleppo in the next few weeks will be essential to define the
diplomatic front. As it stands, Bashar al-Assad’s got the
message from Moscow. He’s ready to discuss amendments to the
Constitution and is prepared to hold parliamentary and
presidential elections. But first the “4+1” need a major fact on
Even US Secretary of State John Kerry, after
he talked to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, has changed
his tune; any political solution implies direct involvement from
Damascus as well as the “patriotic
FSA “patriots” though still haven’t
got the message. Lavrov explicitly committed Moscow to help them
– even after they had been weaponized via Turkey and Jordan to
fight Damascus - as long as they would be fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
Predictably, those FSA “moderate rebels/patriots”
spurned Lavrov’s offer.
Other diplomatic absurdity is the absence of
Iran at the negotiating table – because of House of Saud acute
paranoia. Iranian generals and advisers are a key component of
ground operations, analyzing the ground intel, and the whole
strategic framework in Syria.
Instead, Washington and Riyadh still insist on
increasing support for those invisible “moderate rebels”
– after Kerry met with King Salman in Riyadh. The State
Department, for once addicted to suspense, did not specify what
“support” means. It goes without saying it means more
CIA training and more TOW anti-tank missiles, which will hardly
be directed against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
The diplomatic ballet is bound to continue
later this week. Just in time as the crucial Battle of Aleppo