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Why low key US response to Hezbollah and Iran Guards in big battle for Aleppo, Syria?

November 15th, 2013

Michael Collins

The low key reaction by the United States Department of State to recent events in the battle for Syria's second largest city, Aleppo, reveals a shift in U.S. policy on the Syrian conflict. It looks like the Syrian rebel forces will lose a key supporter.

In early November, the Syrian Arab Army took Al-Safira, a town southeast of Aleppo. The town served as a key gathering point for key rebel factions. Shortly after that, the army attacked and reclaimed a former felicity, Base 80, and the Aleppo International Airport, in rebel hands for nearly a year. These victories establish ground and air supply routes to Aleppo, something the Syrian government required for any attempt to regain the city. Aleppo is currently divided between rebel and government forces, with a smaller part of the city controlled by Syrian Kurds.

These victories created an opening for a Syrian army "pincer movement" against rebel held sections of Aleppo. Hezbollah, elements of the Iran Revolutionary Guard (IRG), and Iraqi Shia fighters are fighting the battle with army troops. BBC, Nov 13

The Syrian government gains of November increased rebel vulnerability to a well-coordinated attack. Voice of America quoted a rebel insider who says that the Syrian government "seems to be underestimating how much the (internal) divisions have sapped rebel strength and has been overcautious in its advance." Apparently, that's not the case anymore based on the scope of the current Syrian army attack.

The various rebel factions issued a desperate call for assistance. An Al Qaeda affiliated group called "all brigades and Muslims to arms to face off against the enemy which is attacking Islamic territory." The call was presented on a video that featured rebels waiving the severed heads of captured Shia fighters.

In Tuesday's comment, Denouement in Aleppo, I suggested that the U.S. reaction to the Syrian army's partners in war, the IRG and Hezbollah, would indicate any major shift in U.S. policy toward the conflict in Syria: "If [the U.S. reaction is] muted and there's no threat of a Western intervention, we can reasonably assume that the defeat of the jihadist dominated rebels is sanctioned by higher authorities, namely the United States and Russia." Agonist, Nov 12

What State isn't staying Hezbollah and IRG forces in Syria says it all

The U.S. Department of States daily press briefings are called Democracy in Action. There have been five briefings since November 1. A review of the transcripts of all five shows little, if any, attention to the presence of Hezbollah and Iran Revolutionary Guard military assistance in the Battle for Aleppo.

The Nov 1 briefing was mute on the looming battle and foreign forces assisting the Syrian government.

The November 4 briefing contained one exchange regarding Hezbollah but nothing on the presence of that group and the IRG in Aleppo.

QUESTION (Press): And one on U.S.-Hezbollah relations: A Kuwaiti newspaper has reported today that there are talks between the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and Hezbollah. Can you --

MS. HARF (Dept. of State): Not to my knowledge.

While of interest, that brief exchange is one of only two substantive references to Hezbollah to date in the November briefings.

By November 12, we should see a reaction to the battle that could result in a Syrian government victory and, effectively, end the military conflict. Nothing there about Aleppo or Syria's partners in arms.

The briefing on November 13 is the tell, the shift in policy from rebel support to acceptance of a Syrian government victory. By yesterday, the State Department knew much more about the battle and combatants than this author and most readers. Yet, there's no condemnation of foreign influence, no railing against Iran and Hezbollah despite the known presence of the IRG and Hezbollah:

QUESTION (Press): How do you view the gains that the regime is making on the ground in Aleppo and Damascus?

MS. PSAKI (Dept. of State): Well, we’ve always said, as you know, that there would be many ups and down in the events on the ground in Syria. … I’m sure the regime is always focused on making gains on the ground. I don’t think that that should be a surprise to anyone. But again, we continue to believe there’s no military solution and that’s why we’re pursuing a political path.

The full-scale assault on rebel held Aleppo and, perhaps, a key battle that may determine the military conflict becomes "many ups and downs in events on the ground." More revealing, we hear that the Assad regime "is always focused on making gains on the ground."

This is the same forum where the U.S. declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization on August 10, 2012. This is also the same forum where, on May 18, the Department of State condemned Iran's assistance to Syria, which it alleged helps "the [Assad] regime brutally crack down on the opposition, kill civilians, and is contributing to regional instability, notably in Lebanon."

The United States is no longer using Syria to fight a proxy war against Iran. That's over. Turkey's Erdogan regime, the Saudi's, and the other camp followers of the throw Assad out campaign are stuck holding the bag, left to their own devices. To borrow a phrase, the United States has no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests. In this case, it is the rapprochement with Iran.


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