July 25, 2013 | Quote

For Syria’s Assad, Homs is the Key Target, Not Aleppo

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad are escalating their offensive to push rebel fighters out of the divided strategic city of Homs in the central region, indicating their much-touted drive against the northern city of Aleppo was a feint.

The strategic objective seems to be to drive a wedge between rebel forces in the north and south and consolidate the center of the country and the western border with Lebanon that connects Damascus to the coastal stronghold of Assad's minority Alawite sect.

This, regional military analysts believe, would constitute a defensible swath of territory, with access to resupply from Iran and Russia, that Assad would continue to rule as sovereign, internationally recognized Syrian territory.

This would be a big boost for Tehran, which is determined to keep Assad's regime in power as its strategic gateway to the Levant and the Mediterranean.

“Washington still lacks strategic vision” when it comes to Syria, observed regional analyst Tony Badran. “In contrast, the Iranians are securing their interests, consolidating a protectorate in western Syria adjoined to their base in Lebanon.”

After more than two years of rebel advances, the pendulum has swung the regime's way since its forces, spearheaded by Hezbollah veterans of the long war against Israel, took Qusair.

After Assad's troops took Qusair, the word was that the regime's next target was Aleppo in the north, where rebels hold much of the city. In June, regime officials even announced the start of “Operation Northern Storm” aimed at overrunning the city.

But no major offensive took place there. “The Aleppo operation may have been a feint all along,” drawing rebel forces away from Homs, Badran cautioned.

“A major operation in northern Syria was never the logical move after Qusair. The real, strategically coherent next step always was in Homs and Damascus and their countryside along the border with Lebanon.”

This is just where regime forces and Hezbollah, whose fighters have become Assad's shock troops have been concentrating, seizing small towns and villages, and where they're likely to continue doing so in the months ahead.

Consolidating the western region south to the outskirts of Damascus, where the rebels hold several districts, and the corridor all the way to the Alawite heartland in the northwest appears to be regime's primary objective.

Read the full article here.