After a three-week siege, the combined forces of Hezbollah and the Assad regime have taken the important crossroads town of Qusayr, which is just south of the even more important city of Homs in east-central Syria. “Whoever controls Qusayr controls the center of the country, and whoever controls the center of the country controls all of Syria,” crowed Syrian brigadier general Yalya Suleiman.
While that boast is as much propaganda as military fact, the capture of Qusayr is a happy moment for Bashar al-Assad—who has had few of them in recent years—and for Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, whose heavy investments in propping up the Syrian dictator appear to be paying off. Indeed, the Iranians “felicitated” Assad on the gain. As well they might, since the Syrian regime is becoming ever more dependent on Tehran; Assad’s army on its own had been unable to retake Qusayr.
This ought to be a further signal that, despite the predictions of some of the closest students of Arab politics, there is nothing inevitable about the fall of the House of Assad. Indeed, it may well be that the morale effects
of retaking Qusayr prove more important than any tactical gain—although the deployment of large-scale and well-trained Hezbollah forces is also making a difference elsewhere in Syria. If they retake Aleppo, the effect on the Syrian opposition could be crushing. And strategically speaking, the momentum is with Iran. As former Obama State Department adviser Vali Nasr writes:
[E]vents in Syria are spinning in Iran’s favor. Assad’s regime is winning ground, the war has made Iran more comfortable in its nuclear pursuits, and Iran’s gains have embarrassed U.S. allies that support the Syrian uprising. What’s more, Iran has strengthened its relationship with Russia, which may prove to be the most important strategic consequence of the Syrian conflict, should the U.S. continue to sit it out.