Syria: Fighting. Press service reports indicate that the combined Syrian army and Hizballah forces have control of most, or all, of the town of al-Qusayr. Government claims of success were matched by opposition pleas for assistance from other areas.
Comment: Control of Qusayr means control of Homs Governate and city, which had been in opposition control for months. Opposition groups remain in control of the northern border with Turkey and parts of eastern Syria bordering Iraq, mainly because the government decided to abandon areas too difficult to hold with limited resources.
Peace talks. The various opposition groups are so fractious that they have been unable to agree on representation at the US-Russian sponsored peace talks in Geneva next month. As a result, the main opposition political group announced it would boycott the talks, ostensibly because the Syrian government would not comply with its condition that Asad step down first. This condition is an attempt to put the best face on the failure to craft a united position and presence for talks.
Asad’s interview. President Bashar al-Asad announced that the Syrian Army has accomplished major achievements in facing militants on the ground. In an interview broadcast on the Al-Manar television channel on 30 May, he confirmed that the military scales have completely turned in favor of the army. Al-Asad said that “Syria and Hizballah are a single axis,” adding that there are “groups of Hizballah fighters in border areas of Lebanon, but the Syrian Army is doing the fighting, running the battle in the face of the armed groups, and will continue this battle until they vanquish those that he described as terrorists.
Al-Asad denounced the roles of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar in supporting and funding armed groups and he spoke of the presence of nearly 100,000 militants with different Arab and foreign nationalities that entered with the support of these countries.
Al-Asad confirmed his preliminary decision to participate in the Geneva meeting, criticizing the leaders of the international opposition. He did not show any confidence that the meeting will yield important results.
As for the Israeli issue, Al-Asad confirmed that “the Syrian Army will respond immediately to any new Israeli invasion of Syrian lands,” clarifying that “the Syrian Government will not stand in the way of any Syrian groups that want to declare a war of resistance to liberate the Golan Heights.” Al-Asad claimed that Syria received some Russian arms recently and claimed that the Russians are committed to completing the delivery of all items under contract.
Comment: In an advance copy of Asad’s scripted remarks that was distributed to reporters, he was supposed to have said that the Russians already delivered a shipment of S-300 missiles. During the actual interview he did not mention S-300s and only commented on continuing Russian delivery of contracted weapons.
Israeli analysts accused Asad of lying about the delivery of S-300 missiles. Unnamed US officials said there was no evidence of a recent missile delivery. An unidentified Russian defense official denied that S-300s had been delivered. If they show up, some intelligence services are going to be embarrassed.
A Syrian victory at al-Qusayr makes it easy for Asad to agree to talks because he now has a position of relative strength. That strength, however, ensures that the opposition will not talk, even if it were more united. Politically it is discredited. The government has no one with which to negotiate and no reason to compromise.
There is no way to confirm Asad’s statement that 100,000 foreign militants are the enemy. On the other hand, his accusation is hard to refute and it justifies the Hizballah militia in joining the fight.