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The Syrian Regime Is Regaining Control, but Tenuously

Since 2015, Bashar al-Assad, with the help of Russia and Iran, has turned the tide in his country’s civil war and is restoring his regime’s control over a gradually expanding territory. Jonathan Spyer, having returned from a press tour of Damascus and other cities now ruled by the Syrian government, reports:

The [Syrian] regime in its self-presentation openly resembles the totalitarian governments of mid-20th century Europe. [It thus] holds an ugly fascination for some Europeans and other Westerners. But its posturing and rhetoric are mostly without weight, like a cheap tin pendant that only from a distance resembles solid metal. Holding up this fragile structure are a variety of other forces more deserving of attention.

On our last night in the city, a member of the [press] delegation was threatened at gunpoint by a drunken Russian journalist. The authorities in the area said they could do nothing, because the man was Russian. This small episode says more about the true state of affairs in government-controlled Syria than all the regime’s verbiage. The Assad regime’s servants do not enjoy unquestioned sovereignty even in their own capital. The regime is today largely a hollow structure. The vigorous regional ambitions of Iran and Russia, and the smaller but no less notable intentions of a vast variety of pro-regime militia commanders, must be factored into any assessment of regime capabilities and intentions.

The closeness of the Sunni Arab rebels to the regime’s urban centers and the absence of Assad’s power from almost the entirety of the country’s east are further testimony to the erosion of the regime. It is a very long way from the days when [Bashar’s father] Hafez al-Assad ran Syria as his “private farm,” as a Syrian Kurdish friend of mine once put it. The Assad regime cannot be destroyed for as long as Moscow and Teheran find a reason to underwrite its existence. But the mortar shells landing in Damascus in close succession are an unmistakable testimony to its reduced and truncated state. The anachronistic rhetoric of its officials and its supporters does not succeed in disguising this reality. Assad is wearing a hollow crown.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war

Hamas’s Dangerous Escalation in Gaza

June 22 2018

As Hamas has stepped up its attacks on communities near the Gaza Strip—using incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons—Israel has begun to retaliate more forcefully. In response, the terrorist group has begun firing rockets and mortars into Israel. Yoav Limor comments:

What made Wednesday’s rocket salvo different is that ‎unlike previous flare-ups on the border [since 2014], this time it ‎was Hamas operatives who fired at Israel, as opposed ‎to Islamic Jihad or the ‎rogue terrorist group in the coastal enclave. ‎Still, Hamas made sure the attack followed most of ‎the familiar “rules”—only [firing] at night and only at the ‎ communities in the vicinity of Gaza, and apparently while also ‎trying to minimize any casualties, to avoid further ‎escalation. ‎. . .

The first reason [for the shift in tactics] is Israel’s own change of policy ‎with regard to kite terrorism. It took Israel far ‎too long to define the incessant waves of incendiary ‎kites sent over the border as actionable acts of ‎terror, but once it did, the IDF began ‎systematically countering them, including firing ‎warning shots at terrorist kite cells and targeting ‎Hamas assets in Gaza in retaliation.‎

The second reason is Hamas’s own frustration and ‎distress in Gaza. Since the border-riot campaign was ‎launched on March 30, some 150 of its operatives ‎have been killed and the Israeli military has ‎carried out over 100 strikes on Hamas positions in ‎the coastal enclave, all while Hamas has nothing to ‎show for it. ‎In this situation, Hamas is searching for [some sort of victory] by declaring that “bombings will be ‎met with bombings,” as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum ‎said Wednesday, in order to portray itself as defending Gaza from ‎Israel.‎ . . .

Hamas is banking on Israel opting against a military ‎campaign in Gaza at this time so as not to split its ‎focus from the [developments in Syria], but it is sorely ‎mistaken if it thinks Israel will simply contain ‎kite terrorism or shy away from action given the new ‎equation it has presented. ‎At some point, Israel’s patience will expire.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security