Syria is Irans Stalingrad

The growing infusion of Iranian-backed Lebanese and Iraqi Shiite fighters into the Syrian civil war is causing some veteran pundits to panic. Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, warns that “Iran is beating the U.S. in Syria.” Former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams sees “a humiliating defeat of the United States at the hands of Iran.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Setting aside the matter of how Washington can be losing a war it is not fighting, the claim that Iran is winning is dead wrong. The Islamic Republic’s headlong intervention in Syria is akin to Nazi Germany’s surge of military forces into the Battle of Stalingrad in the fall of 1942 – an operationally competent, strategic blunder of epic proportions.

To be sure, the influx of thousands of foreign (mostly non-Iranian) Shiite fighters into Syria in recent months has enabled pro-regime forces to regain some ground in the Damascus suburbs and a belt of territory linking the capital to Homs and the coast. The town of Qusayr, critical to both rebel and regime supply lines into Lebanon, fell on June 5.

That’s a shame, but the Iranian surge won’t prevent the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab rebels from eventually prevailing on the battlefield. Sunni Arabs have a 5-to-1 demographic edge over the minority Alawites who comprise most uniformed and paramilitary pro-regime combatants, and a 2-to-1 advantage over all of Syria’s ethno-sectarian minorities combined. The rebels are strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims worldwide who are Sunnis, and their four principal sponsors – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan – have a GDP well over twice that of Iran. Russia continues to do business with the regime, but it won’t intervene decisively enough to change the math.

Like the vaunted German Wehrmacht in the Stalingrad kessel, Iran’s expeditionary forces have been thrown into a tactical military environment for which they are woefully unprepared. Although Hezbollah wrote the book on guerrilla warfare against conventional militaries, it has little experience fighting battle-hardened insurgents on unfamiliar terrain – and it shows. At least 141 Hezbollah fighters were killed in the span of just one month fighting in the battle for Qusayr, many of them elite commandos who cannot easily be replaced.

Iran’s mobilization of Lebanese and Iraqi Shiites to fight for their distant theological cousins in Syria is unlikely to keep pace with such losses, or with the increased influx of foreign Sunni Islamists sure to come in reaction to it. In the wake of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s May 25 declaration to his Shiite followers that the Syrian war is “our battle,” the Qatar-based spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims with military training to fight in Syria (something he never did with respect to Israel) and characterizing the conflict as a worldwide struggle between “100 million Shiites” and “1.7 billion [Sunni] Muslims.”

Of course, divisions among both the rebels and their external sponsors have greatly slowed the march to Damascus. Because Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ultimate defeat is a foregone conclusion, all of the major players (the United States included) are focused more on bolstering their equity within the eventually-to-be-victorious rebel camp than on hastening its advance. But the eventual aggregation and coordination of sufficient rebel manpower and resources to decisively defeat pro-regime forces (first in Damascus, later in the rest of Syria) is inevitable so long as none of the players bow out or switch sides.

read the rest here: Syria is Irans Stalingrad :: Middle East Forum.

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