Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Syria tomorrow?

The intervention in Yemen by a ten-nation Arab coalition has raised hopes of similar action in Syria, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

Operation Decisive Storm, the military intervention by a ten-member Arab coalition in Yemen, has been greeted with mixed reactions in Syria. The regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has denounced it as an “international conspiracy” against Yemen and Iran, while opposition groups have seen hopes for similar action in their country.

According to the government-run Syrian media, the aerial campaign in Yemen is directed not against the Houthi rebels alone but also against the Iranians. It was “flagrant aggression” waged by “idiots” to stamp out the Houthis’ “just cause,” the media said.

Since the aerial campaign started, a parade of Iranian officials has been offered ample space in the Syrian media to lash out against the Saudi-led coalition. There are more Iranians than Syrians now being interviewed in the Syrian media.

However, the Syrian opposition has been delighted by the Arab campaign in Yemen.  For once, opposition members noted, the Arabs had acted in unison, pinpointing Iran as a force of instability and making a point of stopping its allies in their tracks.

Had the Iranians not boasted of keeping Al-Assad in power in Syria just as they had boasted of their mounting influence in Yemen, opposition members asked. If the Arabs were acting today to stymie the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, would they not move tomorrow to undo the Tehran-supported regime in Damascus?

Most saw the Arab coalition’s intervention in Yemen not as an attempt to restore a legitimate government to power in Yemen, but rather as a way of crushing the Iranian influence which has proved so lethal in both Syria and Iraq.

Ahmed Jarba, former president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF), was pleased to see Iran’s allies in Yemen taking a beating.

“Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries answered the Arab call to stop Iranian expansion, an expansion that dons a Houthi mask in Sanaa and an Al-Assad mask in Damascus,” he said.

He was particularly pleased that the Egyptian military was involved in the Yemen campaign. “The most glorious thing about this historic day is the position taken by the Egyptian leadership, which has added momentum to the Arab and Islamic rejection of Iran’s unbridled madness,” Jarba added.

As soon as Operation Decisive Storm began, major victories were reported in Syria against the regime’s forces in the north and south of the country.

After grinding battles, Syrian opposition forces liberated Bosra, a major city in the south that has served as a frontline position for the regime’s army and its Iranian and Hizbullah allies. As a result, the opposition is now in control of most of the south of the country.

In the north, the opposition also took control of the entire Idlib governorate, expelling the combined forces of the regime and its backers.

Idlib is the fifth-largest governorate in Syria, and its western location puts the opposition within striking distance of the regime’s strongholds in the coastal areas, thus threatening Al-Assad’s last-ditch plans.

In response, the Syrian president offered the Russians military bases on the Syrian coast if they would increase their support for government forces.

The Syrian regime is more involved in Yemen than many people might think. It has allowed Iran to train more than 1,000 Houthi fighters in military camps not far from the capital, and some believe that the Iranians have even given trainees the chance to engage in active battles in Syria to hone their combat skills before sending them to Yemen, armed and ready to fight.

The parallels between the situations in Syria and Yemen are so close that every blow the coalition deals to the Houthis rattles the regime’s confidence in Damascus.

Syrian opposition member Fawwaz Tallo believes that Damascus is as worthy a target for the coalition as the Houthi forces in Sanaa. “Striking at the serpent’s tail in Yemen is not enough. We must crush the serpent’s head in Syria,” he said.

Tallo was optimistic that the Saudis and Egyptians had now decided to teach the Iranians a lesson. “Now, there is clearly a harmony among Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, among others, and this will be translated into action on the ground,” he added.

He would like to see a no-fly zone declared, allowing the rebels the chance to fight the regime and its allies more fairly. Even a partial no-fly zone could do the trick, he said. “The decisive battle against the Persian imperialists targeting the Arabs is going to take place in Syria,” Tallo predicted.

Another Syrian opposition member, Habib Saleh, was glad the Arabs were finally showing their mettle. The reason the Iranians had gone so far was that they had assumed the Arabs were “spineless,” as he put it.

“The Arabs are finally taking up the challenge, giving the lie to the Iranian assumption that the Arabs are too spineless, too frightened, to rise to the occasion,” he said.

“Iran has been acting on the assumption that the Arabs are an excitable bunch who cannot make up their minds,” he added.

This situation was now changing, Saleh noted. “The Arabs are acting confidently and capably, and they have made tactical and strategic gain in Yemen”, he added.

For Saleh, there was one hope to live for – “Yemen today and Syria tomorrow,” he said.

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