Syria: The Hidden War

Amidst a conflict in this Middle Eastern country that is based entirely on lies, the great powers defend their political and economic interests.

Part I

Alberto Rodríguez

In Syria there was no revolution in 2011. The war in Syria is the result of a conflict between two systems; the socialist secularism of the Baath Party against the liberal Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood.  It is a confrontation that has been bleeding  Syria since the sixties when the Baathists took power for the first time, that intensified in 2012 when Islamists from all over the world answered the call of jihad to provoke a conflict that has turned Syria into a battlefield of hundreds of militias, organizations and interests prepared to fight to the death.

From the beginning, the United States sought to maintain hegemony over its allies in the region so that its companies could continue to operate competitively in the resource market. Together with the United States, France, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, needed to frame public opinion in their favor so that it would support direct intervention in Syria through providing logistical, military and financial support to the rebels, without regards to the percentage of the local population in favor of their government. The Syrian people’s views were irrelevant to their interests.

Russia, on the other hand, under the cover of defending Syria, became involved in the conflict to protect both its strategic exit to the Mediterranean in the port of Tartús and its commercial and political interests. With Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Putin knew that his regional enemies would be unable to build a pipeline from Qatar to Europe via Syria, so the Russians could be the only ones that supply natural gas to Germany and neighboring countries through the Baltic Sea, a politically advantageous economic benefit.

Iran, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are embroiled in a dispute over regional domination, something in which the United States plays a vital role in favor of its main ally Israel.

Between the legitimate demonstrations for reforms of 2011 and those who wanted to overthrow the government, there were gray areas that both the Muslim Brotherhood in exile and the United States, Saudi Arabia, France and allies knew how to exploit, and that the jihadist organizations took advantage of,

In 2011, these countries had a clear objective: to seek a UN Resolution for an intervention to save the Syrian people, but without actually asking the Syrian people.

The vast majority referred to the Arab Spring as a homogeneous movement for democracy, while it was in fact a regime-change strategy that could be applied in any country.

The Bahraini revolts were led by the Shia opposition, while in Tunisia the Sunni Islamist movement Ennahda sought to take advantage of the protests to seize power. Syria followed a different path that led to the war that the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed party responsible for several coup and assassination attempts, had wanted to start for three decades.

Far from what the press headlines said, Syria presided over by Bashar al-Assad was not a one-party country. Although, until the constitutional reform of 2012, the Baath Socialist Party enjoyed a privileged position as a state party, there is also the Arab Socialist Movement, Syrian Arab Socialist Union, Syrian Communist Party, Unified Syrian Communist Party, Social Democratic Unionists, Socialist Unionists, Democratic Arab Union Party, Democratic Socialist Unionist Party, National Pact Movement, Syrian National Socialist Party and Nasserists.

To understand the irreconcilable conflict between the Syrian State and the Muslim Brotherhood, one must know the ideological basis of both.

The Baath Party emerged after decolonization and has secularism and non-Marxist socialism as its ideological base . Its Arab nationalist ideology seeks to unite an uprooted population without identity after the Ottoman Empire and French colonization, while facing the pan-Islamism.  It is committed to the construction of a secular and anti-imperialist state that recognizes all the ethnic groups that comprise the most diverse country in the Middle East.

The Muslim Brothers, on the other hand, seek to recover the Islamic identity of the Arab countries and are economically and socially conservative. Although they present themselves as a moderate Islamist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood has a long history of violence in the Middle East and North Africa. In the 1940s they assassinated Egypt’s Prime Minister Mahmud Pasha, in the 1950s they tried to assassinate Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, and in 1988 they joined the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria in an Islamist uprising that sparked a civil war in which  more than 200,000 people died.

The brotherhood represents a fundamentalist current of the Islam that looks for to return to their origins, to live as in the times of the prophet Muhammad, a goal they share with the Taliban. This school of thought seeks to eliminate any cultural, social and political vestige that does not have Islamic roots.

In Syria they soon became the main sectarian opposition force to the secularism of the Ba’ath party, and since it came to power in the 1960s, they have tried to overthrow the government on multiple occasions.

In addition to the rejection felt by the HHMM towards ideologies that are clearly secular and “westernized” such as that of the Baaz (Rebirth), it must be added that Bashar al-Assad is Alawite, a minority within Shiism. According to the legal schools that encompass Sunni fundamentalism, the Shiites are heretics that must be eliminated, which leads the political struggle into the religious sphere.

It should be noted that the HHMM do not represent all the fundamentalist currents that are currently fighting in Syria, since, despite sharing ideological roots, each seeks to apply the Islamic law of its own school. For example, leading Salafist clerics have declared fatwas against the brotherhood because they consider political activity a danger to da’wa and their ultimate goal of establishing sharia by destroying previous institutions.

The problem of pan-Islamist ideologies like that of the Muslim Brotherhood lies in the fact that Syria is not a Muslim country,  but a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic one. A state governed by sharia would inevitably lead to ethnic cleansing and the extermination of half the population.

When Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000, he made reforms that limited state control over the population. The Islamist opposition lost much of its social base, in addition to their failure at all their attempts of coup d’etat. For this reason, they were forced to look for support abroad,  mainly British, French and US.  Shortly before the conflict broke out in 2011, the opposition linked to the Muslim Brotherhood based in London created Barada TV, the medium used to demand the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and inform in Europe in a partial and propagandistic way about the Syrian protests.

According to Barada TV, hundreds and even thousands of people were killed by “Assad forces” when they were protesting against the state of emergency, a situation that Syria had lived was translated in that they in for more than fifty years due to the constant coups and the war with Israel, that, far from being finished, is maintained by the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.

According to cables released by Wikileaks, since 2006 and after freezing its relations with Syria in 2005, the United States gave Barada TV more than 6 million dollars to operate the channel and finance “opposition activities” within Syria. The funding did not end after Obama’s term, but continued with the Trump administration. It is estimated that, between 2005 and 2010, the United States introduced about 12 million dollars in Syria to finance insurgent groups opposed to the Assad government before the war broke out, a figure that would increase exponentially during the war to reach 12,000. millions.

The various interferences show that the conflict was forced from the outside, mainly by the hand of foreign powers and the environment of the Muslim Brothers in Europe, where they have 500 associations linked to the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FOIE), among the which highlights the Movement for Justice and Development, which entered Syria – where it was outlawed – during the war.

The demonization of Syria allowed the justification of policies such as sanctions imposed by the US, which aimed to weaken the economy and aggravate a crisis  that resulted in  the withdrawal of some subsidies in rural areas affected by a drought that in 2011, was in its fifth year. These policies pushed the economy to the limit, accentuated inequality in a country more equitable than Russia, USA. or Spain, according to the GINI index, and sought to provoke a weakness with which to force social conflict.

Taking advantage of the context of the 2011 protests, the Islamists were able to infiltrate the masses and introduce foreign fighters to either overthrow the government or, if they failed to do so, start the war. Their plan worked.

Towards a new world order: the war has reinvented International Relations

Since 2011, Syria has become a sort of chessboard in which each country has its piece. The axis of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates is facing Russia, Iran and China. Qatar and Turkey move between two waters, while countries like North Korea maintain agreements with Syria. In between, there is the Syrian population, who only yearn for peace and for everything to return to normal.

But why would third countries want to invest millions of dollars in a war that is not theirs? In some cases what they pursue is nothing more than trade agreements in the domain of a region that connects Asia with Europe. In others, it’s about surviving.

Survival is what drives Israel and Saudi Arabia, which feel under siege. After the war of 2006 in which Hezbollah prevailed over Israel in south Lebanon, the Axis of Resistance formed by Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and Palestine,  was enormously popular  in the Arab world. This posed a risk to the Saudi monarchy, with internal instability – accentuated by the strongly repressed Shiite minority that the State never controls –  and the risk from Israel, which would not see the enemies with whom it shares a border, strengthened.

Israel is an emerging power with demographic problems due to the large Jewish population it hosts from around the world. Maintaining its settlement policy in the occupied territory of the Golan has become a necessity.  Everything indicates that after the war in Syria, there will be an upsurge in tensions with southern Lebanon where there is a large reserve of natural gas.

The 2011 protests were a great opportunity to head off the Axis of Resistance while attempting to isolate Lebanon, Syria and Palestine from Iran.  For this, Israel and Saudi Arabia were united by a shared objective with Sunni fundamentalists who sought to eliminate the Axis in the face of fear of Shiite and pro-Iranian domination throughout the Middle East.

Iran, like Saudi Arabia, knows that its survival is also at stake. The dissolution of the Shia Half Moon (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) would isolate the Persian country leaving it at the mercy of its regional and international enemies. Iran annually invests billions of dollars in Syria, providing  both military and logistic support, delivering oil and humanitarian aid. In addition to the monetary expenditure, the Iranians have lost more than a thousand soldiers on Syrian soil.

This confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran has affected the relations of the Saud with Qatar, which is an important ally of the Iranians, leading to a political crisis in 2017 with blockades to Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the cessation of diplomatic relations of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with Qatar. For a few weeks there was talk of a Saudi invasion, but that never happened because in Doha, the United States has one of its largest bases in the region, al-Udeid, with 11,000 troops and 100 operational aircraft.

Syria is currently providing Russia with the strategic advantage of the Mediterranean Sea exit, and for this reason, Russia intervened militarily to save the Syrian government from collapse. Russia has not entered Syria because of internationalist solidarity.

The Russians did not enter Syria until 2015. During the first years of the war, the Kremlin actually showed some willingness to cooperate with the US in proposals such as the destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal in 2013, but constantly vetoed the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council against the government of Bashar al-Assad. Until 2015, its bases in Tartous, Latakia and Hmeymim were in relatively stable areas controlled by the Syrian government. In 2015, however, the Government was in a very fragile position and Russia was in danger of being forced out of the Mediterranean. It was then that the Kremlin decided to attend the request of the Syrian parliament and enter with force in Syria.

Another central interest of Russia is the traffic of natural gas, which plays a fundamental role in its international relations. The Russians sell their gas to Germany and neighboring countries by the Baltic Sea through Gazprom, at prices against which the United States can not compete. Therefore, when there is a diplomatic crisis, Russia can always threaten, as it did during the crisis in Ukraine, to cut off gas supplies. By preventing the United States from selling Qatari natural gas through a gas pipeline that would have to pass through Syria, Russia managed to maintain its diplomatic hold on the center of Europe and mitigates the effect of the sanctions imposed by the United States.

The United States, which seeks to maintain the hegemony in the region so that its companies can continue to operate in the resource market,  invested at least 500 million dollars in training rebel forces, according to official data – not counting the cost of its two Tomahawk missile attacks in 2017 and 2018 against multiple Syrian army positions. Between 2014 and 2018 they invested 12 billion dollars in Syria to create new security forces in opposition territories, deliver weapons, organize military and civilian operations, according to the former Ambassador of the United States in Damascus.

One of the reasons the United States uses to justify its investment and support for the rebels is the crimes it attributes to the Syrian government, among which the chemical attacks play a key role in public opinion. However, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), backed by the United Nations, has found  no evidence to incriminate the Syrian government, and agencies such as Swedish Doctors for Human Rights or Theodore Postol of the Technological Institute of Massachusets, question US allegations. The supposed chemical attacks are key to achieve the demonization of Syria and the erosion of the image of Russia before  world opinion and in the Security Council of the United Nations.

Turkish Prime MInister Erdogan seeks to become a leading reference among the Sunni community worldwide. Despite heading a government that is openly hostile to that of Damascus, the 2016 attempted coup against Erdogan marked a turning point in his international relations, which is why he increasingly approached Iran and Russia. This has had an impact on Ankara’s trilateral negotiations on the peace process in Syria, making Erdogan more willing to negotiate an end to war favorable to Assad.

The current economic crisis that threatens Turkey, after the sanctions imposed by the United States, has caused Erdogan to move further away from NATO in an effort to find a place under the protection of Russia’s economy and the BRICS, a common market composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Italian: Revista Contexto

Part II

To say that the war in Syria began because the government decided to respond with force against its own citizens, ignoring  demands for reforms and more democracy,  is a lie.

The protests of the “Syrian spring” were violent from their inception. To give an example, on the third day of protests the demonstrators set fire to Daraa’s Palace of Justice, headquarters of two telephone companies, headquarters of the Ba’ath Party and several other buildings.

On June 6, 2011, only three months after the first protests and before the war broke out, opponents executed 120 Syrian soldiers. By that time, 400 members of the security forces had been killed and another 1,300 wounded.

Nor was it a popular insurrection. Shortly before the March revolts known as ‘the revolution’, in February 2011, an attempt was made to convene a Day of Rage. It was a failure. Even then, media such as the New York Times admitted that the opposition had no social base and that it was linked to fundamentalist organizations.

In 2014 there were at least 81 different nationalities fighting on the rebel side in the country. They had declared a jihad in which the only democracy that the rebels wanted was Islamic law achieved by the sword against a government they define as heretical.

The Assad government knew since the start of the protests in 2011, that among the protesters with legitimate demands were Islamist opponents whose goal was to put an end to the Ba’ath party. For this reason he made a series of concessions, such as ending the state of emergency and granting greater political openness, aimed at appeasing moderates, contenting Sunni conservatives and relieving international pressure.

For the most radical sector of the opposition these reforms were not enough since the State remained secular, with a strongly regulated economy, with strategic sectors nationalized. Outside, the hostile powers did not view favorably that Syria kept Iran and Hezbollah within the Axis of Resistance and that foreign investment and imports were still restricted to boost their own market, which, like banking, was controlled by the State.

These measures, despite democratizing the political spectrum with the emergence of new associations and parties such as the Cultural Forum for Human Rights, saw the Islamists as a weakness that fractured the fragile stability of Syria, a country that,  under the Hafez al-Assad’s government, had  experienced more than twenty coups in twenty years.

The repeal of the state of emergency, which had been in force for 48 years, was a turning point that allowed the Muslim Brothers in exile and intellectuals close to Trotskyism to use the necessary propaganda mechanisms to promote protests from abroad and ask for intervention of an International Community that maintained strong sanctions on the country.

The different intellectuals linked to the opposition knew how to use the information and communication technologies that Bashar al-Assad himself promoted in the 2000s, but their discourse failed within Syria because it did not correspond to the reality that the population lived daily,  and also because in 2012 the internet still had a very small influence in the country.

The Syrian conflict was never a purely civil war. It was an international confrontation in which fighters from around the world  were funded and sponsored by the main economic and military powers.  Given that the bulk of the rebels are Islamist fundamentalists,  this is a  global jihad.

If there were in reality 70,000 moderate fighters that British Prime Minister David Cameron said he supported in 2015 – and that journalists like Robert Fisk questioned on the grounds that there would be barely 700 or even 70 – the truth is that these in themselves, do not comprise a large enough population to justify a war.  Cameron had to acknowledge shortly after that among the 70,000 supposedly moderate combatants the United Kingdom would support, there were also “hard-line Islamists,” who turned out to be the majority.

The Military Operations Center (MOC) of Amman, consisting of the USA, Jordan, the United Kingdom, France, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, also plays a vital role in the Syrian conflict by providing economic, military and logistical support to the rebels and coordinating joint operations from the military base located at the Syrian-Jordanian border crossing of al-Tanf.

The economic and military support provided by the Military Operations Center of Amman to those considered moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army,  comprised of extremist groups. Thanks to the indiscriminate support of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan to these terrorist groups,  militias like the Syrian Revolutionary Front could be formed, which until their defeat in Daraa,  remained allied al-Qaeda in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, the strongest opposition group until the split from the Islamic State.

In 2012, the New York Times explained how most of the weapons sent to the rebels ended up in the hands of extremist groups. Strong structures, greater organization and military experience acquired on different fronts, allowed Jabhat al-Nusra to dominate. Even the leader of the Free Syrian Army, Riyad al-Asaad, acknowledged that Nusra had become a reference organization towards which most rebels were orbiting. Prominent figures of the rebels, who became the visible and media face of the terrorist war,  revealed their  sympathy for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Such was the case of the former Syrian soccer player Abdul Baset al-Sarout, who claimed in 2014 that these Islamist organizations shared the same interests and objectives as the rebels.

The Syrian Revolutionary Front is no exception,  as supported from abroad, especially by Turkey, is Ahrar al-Sham, a coalition of Islamists that during the first years of the war managed to dominate and control smaller groups. With Turkish and Qatari support, they had 20,000 combatants and led the Islamic Front, a coalition of 45,000.

From the first moment the Syrian opposition was organized abroad, mainly in Turkey, where the embryo of the Free Syrian Army was created in 2011, since the government of Erdogan and his party, the AKP, are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is what fueled the violence in the protests from the beginning.

The Turkish authorities facilitated rebels attacking Syria from their territory, which greatly enhanced their ability to destabilize the country after the protests escalated to tribal conflicts.

The rebels have not only benefited from the support of the MOC and Turkey. The organization “Friends of Syria”, a group outside the Security Council of the United Nations, led by Nicolas Sarkozy, the United States, Turkey, European countries and Gulf petromonarchies,  financed Islamist organizations affiliated to the Free Syrian Army as Faylaq al-Sham , Tajamo Fastaqim, Jaysh al-Mujahideen and Jaysh al-Idlib, which are close to the union of different jihadist groups,  Ahrar al-Sham.

The leaders and founders of Ahrar al-Sham were released from the Sednaya prison in 2011 due to international pressure , although at that time they spoke in their speeches about killing the nusayríes and the rafida (derogatory terms with which they refer to Alawites and Shiites).

The Muslim Brotherhood, through Mohammed Surur Zein al-Abidin, chose to give support and funding to lesser-known but also important groups such as Jabhat Tahrir Suriyya al-Islamiyya, Farouq Battalion, Suqour al-Sham and the Tawhid Brigade, among many others. However, the main bet of the Brothers was Jaysh al-Islam, a Salafist group that was configured as the most important along with Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, until their leader, Zahrar Alloush, died in a Russian bombing provoking an internal struggle for power from which they never recovered.

In 2014, the United States came to support the Kurdish YPGs (which seek to create autonomy in the territories they control in the north and east of Syria) and part of the Free Syrian Army in the Battle of Kobane against the Islamic State. When the Syrian army had to withdraw from northern Syria,  stretched too thin on too many fronts, the Kurds who did not want to join the National Defense Forces,  took control of the border town with Turkey.  A year later, the United States created the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to bring together the most distant rebels of al-Qaeda and the YPG in the same group.

Despite the image of moderation developed by the Syrian Democratic Forces in the West, they include Islamist organizations such as the Revolutionary Brigade of Raqqa, which before the SDS were allies of al-Qaeda in Syria, and Liwa Owais al-Qorani, who fought on the side of the Islamic State in Tabqa. In January 2018, the Syrian Democratic Forces freed 400 captured Islamic State members, of whom 120 were integrated into the SDF of Deir Ezzor and Hasaka.

In addition to US sponsorship, the FDS has received 100 million Saudi dollars to finance the war but also to hire mercenaries from the private security company Castle International.

By 2012 the Syrian government had not fallen, and the sides of the conflict were  established. In that context, 2013 would become the year in which the regional and international powers began their struggle to dominate both Syria and the region and reinvent the world order as we knew it until then.

In Syria there was always moderate opposition

The opposition has been and continues to be one of the most controversial issues when it comes to talking about the Syrian conflict and its political future. Trying to give voice to the opposition forces to the Syrian government from Europe has only managed to silence them.

According to the Democratic Index of The Economist, Syria is an authoritarian state, although its system is inspired by the French semi-presidential model with multi-party parliament based on the principle of pluralism since 2012, following the constitutional reform that was approved together with several concessions to try to avoid war – like the parliamentary elections that same year.

Currently, two types of opposition can be distinguished: official and militant.

Within the armed opposition are the well-known Syrian rebels, who have the support of European countries and the United States, and whose highest political representation body is the Syrian National Council (CNS).  Within this block is the opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood in exile, the most organized opposing force of this block with a wide network of contacts. The Syrian National Council, the Muslim Brotherhood and the armed militias in Syria are betting on overthrowing the Syrian Government through arms and the imposition of Islamic law, which is the common point that unites all these groups.

On the other hand, silenced from the outside, is the official opposition. It highlights the National Coordinating Committee of the Forces of Change, formed by different parties that are committed to the peaceful solution and led by the Nasserists, and the Syrian National Socialist Party, up to August 2014.

Although members of the pro-government opposition, the leader of the Syrian National Socialist Party (PSNS), Ali Haidar, consider them to be  opponents and assures that they will not rest until the Ba’ath is overthrown, during the war they have decided to form a unity government. What differentiates them from the armed opposition is that they use peaceful means to achieve change,  supporting a secular State,  rejecting any type of external interference to destabilize the country.

The parties of the pro-government opposition have headquarters in Damascus and are allowed to use their own militias that fight in the war, such as ‘The Eagles of the Whirlwind’ of the PSNS, or the Syrian Resistance, founded by the communist Mihrac Ural and associated with Turkish armed forces such as the Popular Liberation Front DHPC-C.

Balkan Weapons in Syria

The arms industry does not know crisis. According to the Corruption and Organized Crime Complaint Project (OCCRP), the United States has invested more than two billion dollars in arms produced in the Balkans for the Syrian rebels (part of the 12 billion dollars that the United States declares have invested in the war). Weapons based on Soviet weapons, manufactured in the Balkan countries and Eastern Europe with munitions produced in Kazakhstan, Georgia and Ukraine.

Only in 2017, the Pentagon had a budget of 250 million dollars to train and equip the rebels, of which 210 were for ammunition, equipment and weapons.

The main route followed by these weapons starts in Bulgaria and Romania. Through the Black Sea they reach the American bases in Jordan and Turkey; from 2017 also by air to Kuwait. That is when the Pentagon, through the Special Operations Command of the United States, and without the details being known, the CIA, introduces the equipment in Syria.

While the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is responsible for delivering to the rebels mainly light weapons, the main supplier of anti-armored missiles BGM TOW to the rebels has been the CIA. Their independent action has generated many disputes with the Pentagon, which led Trump in 2017 to force the cessation of the CIA’s secret program of support for the rebels. Although it is not known what has happened to it, it is likely that the US has centralized its support campaign for the Syrian rebels and the SDS only through the SOCOM. This theory is supported by the fact that the Pentagon budget to support the rebels increased in 2018 compared to 2017.

The problem of delivering arms to the rebels without following up on them is that a large part of the equipment ends up in the hands of the Islamic State or militias affiliated to the current arm of al-Qaeda in Syria, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham as has also happened with another types of aid .

The Battles that Changed the War

The war in Syria has experienced violent battles that beyond the war epic have supposed turning points or, at least, have determined the movements and strategies of the different actors involved in it:

The offensive of al-Qusayr in 2013. In this battle is when Hezbollah entered the war. The rebels lost the chance to dominate Homs after the defeat at Qusayr. After this battle, the few groups that could be considered moderate Islamists saw that they had no capacity to win the war, so they ended up joining the most radical that were the main force of the unofficial opposition thanks to the economic and military support received from outside , along with the fighters imported from Afghanistan and Iraq who already had experience in combat. Qusayr’s victory came after a year of constant defeats by the Syrian Army.

Battle of Homs 2011-2014. The rebels lose “the capital of the revolution”. The battle cost the lives of 50,000 people on both sides. The rebels who did not take part in the National Reconciliation Processes were evacuated to the Rastan stock exchange. In this way the government worked intensely for a diplomatic solution that would reduce the number of deaths. Two years later Idlib would become the preferred destination for rebels evacuated from different fronts, although currently with the entry of Turkey into northern Syria, they  also go to Afrin and Jarabulus to avoid fighting between different factions in Idlib.

Battle of Aleppo, 2012-2016. Aleppo, the economic engine of Syria, was divided for four years and became the great slaughterhouse of the war.  Neither side was prepared for urban combat. The victory of the Syrian Arab Army with the support of its allies in 2016 marked a turning point and the beginning of Damascus victories. It was the Stalingrad of the Syrian government.

The second battle of Idlib in 2015. Ahrar al-Sham, al-Nusra and allies such as the Islamic Party of Turkmenistan (Chinese Uyghurs) 1 dominated the entire governorate and established their institutions there. The Syrian Arab Army collapsed in northern Syria and struggled in Aleppo. It is the most important victory of the rebels.

The battle of Kobane in 2015. Faced with the military incapacity of the Kurds, who had been left alone after rejecting the constant offers of Damascus to integrate their militias, the YPG, in the National Defense Forces, the United States came to their aid and entered directly in the war. At the Battle of Kobane, the myth that the Islamic State was invincible was ended.

Islamic State takes Palmira in 2015. Capturing Tudmur supposed the hegemony of the Islamic State in the desert between Deir Ezzor and Homs. In addition, they executed between 200 and 450 people. Morally and militarily, ISIS was imposing itself. In a short time they were making huge advances in their eastern campaign. This defeat of the Syrian government along with the one of Idlib, was the reason that Russia decided to enter the war.

Daraa offensive between June and July 2015, known as operation “Storm of the South”. It was a large-scale offensive carried out jointly by the South Front and Jaysh al-Fatah against the Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces. The offensive was a failure, with 200 casualties against less than 40 from the government side, which marked the beginning of the end of the Southern Front and forced Jordan to rethink its relations with Damascus and the rebels of the Free Syrian Army.

Battle of Deir Ezzor 2014-2017. The breaking of the siege of Deir Ezzor was one of the greatest moral pushes for the government side. The resistance of the 137th Brigade of the Republican Guard, an elite force, first before rebels and then before the Islamic State, was considered impossible to overcome given its situation of total isolation. Breaking the siege marked a turning point and the end of the hegemony of the Islamic State in the desert. The city, for more than three years, was surrounded, almost 200 kilometers from the nearest government position. The only help that arrived was through the aviation of the Syrian army and even then, it was very scarce due to the anti-air fire of the rebels and later of the Islamic State.

August 25, 2017: The elite body of Syrian intelligence, the Tiger Forces, launched a desert offensive to break the siege of Deir Ezzor and succeeded on September 5, 2017.

Battle of Ghouta 2013-2018. When finalizing, the rebels stop having mortar fire capacity on the city of Damascus and the highways that connect the city with the north. The only remaining resistance inside the Syrian capital was in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, where several rebel groups, Hamas militants and the Islamic State were entrenched. The government victory of Ghouta also brought an end to the resistance of the insurgents in Yarmouk, who surrendered within a few weeks.

The battle of Menagh air base. During July 2012 and August 2013: The Syrian Arab Army withstood the rebel offensives despite being isolated and without support. The Syrian government used this resistance in a propagandistic way because it presented it as something heroic. However, in mid-2013, the Free Syrian Army, Jaysh al-Muhajireen and the Islamic State began a large-scale joint offensive in which they used mainly anti-tank weapons and SVBIED’s2, quickly ending the defenses of the Syrian Army. What was an exemplary battle for the government side ended up being a catastrophe and a moral boost for the rebels. The battle was followed by a series of executions of the soldiers defending Menagh and the first major audiovisual production of the Islamic State in English, Flames of War. This joint victory with the Islamic State was also celebrated and applauded by the Syrian National Coalition, the body created from the outside to bring together the supposedly moderate opposition.

Notes:

1-At that time all the groups were integrated to Jaysh al-Fatah or Army of Conquest, which ended up dissolving by confrontations within the own coalition that still today endure.

2-SVBIED vehicles are loaded with explosives used to carry out suicide attacks.

Italian: Revista Contexto