LIVE UPDATES: A large blast was reported this morning in the hills east of the Hmeemeem airbase near Jableh, from which Russian jets are conducting operations. Some reports claim the blast was caused by a ballistic missile fired by rebels. Meanwhile the regime has redirected forces to assault rebel-held areas of the Homs province, supported by Russian air strikes.
The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.
ISW concludes that Russia’s airstrikes are designed to aid a push by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), which is aided by Iranian and Hezbollah ground troops. Furthermore, ISIS is taking advantage of the weakened rebel positions and is itself advancing near Aleppo:
Russia’s involvement in Syria is facilitating ISIS’s territorial gains, while also strengthening Assad. Russia is supporting the Syrian regime’s offensives in Latakia, the al-Ghab Plain, and northern Hama. Russia also intensified strikes on rebel-held northwestern Aleppo, likely to set conditions for an imminent Russian-Iranian-Syrian regime offensive in the area. U.S. defense officials and local Syrian activists reported the arrival of hundreds of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force fighters and other Iranian proxy forces in Aleppo over the past few days. Russian strikes largely concentrated along the rebel-held supply route leading to the besieged regime enclaves of Nubl and Zahraa northwest of Aleppo City. If the regime can link with these enclaves, they will successfully sever the rebel-held supply route from Aleppo City to the Turkish border. Simultaneous regime offensives in both Hama and Aleppo Provinces will likely fix rebel forces along multiple fronts and prevent them from reinforcing their positions across northwestern Syria, resulting in a loss of terrain for the Syrian opposition.
Read their entire assessment here.
This is exactly what many experts, including those at The Interpreter, predicted would happen.
Recently The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief Michael Weiss was interviewed by Reason magazine. Weiss pointed out that expert analysis of the situation in Syria has long been ignored by policy makers and the situation there is now both precarious and hard to fix:
I Got Syria So Wrong
Now and then I am asked if I had predicted, way back in March 2011 when violence in Syria began, that within a few years a quarter-million people would be dead, half the population homeless and hundreds of thousands of defenseless civilians terrorized, traumatized, tortured and starved.
The piece goes back to 2011 and discusses major policy issues being debated between Syria and the US, including a possible peace deal with Israel that could have done serious damage to Iran’s efforts to fuel Hezbollah.
Hof says that it took 18 months for him to become disillusioned with the idea of working with the Assad regime. He also argues that it has taken the Obama administration far longer, if that lesson has ever been realized.
Hof also puts the scale of the problem (and the need for urgent solutions) in the spotlight:
There is no end in sight to this vicious bloodletting. Iran and Russia could stop the gratuitous mass murder but opt not to do so. Moscow now facilitates it with military intervention. The United States could stop it or slow it down significantly without invading and occupying Syria—indeed, without stretching the parameters of military science. But it has adamantly refused to do so. Meanwhile, the minions of the Islamic State loot and destroy the world heritage site of Palmyra while subjecting much of eastern Syria to their own brand of violent rule and internal terror.
But while Hof argues that urgent intervention is needed to prevent further bloodshed and the empowering of ISIS, he also paints a depressing picture of the leadership of Barack Obama on this issue:
My failure to predict the extent of Syria’s fall was, in large measure, a failure to understand the home team. In August 2011, Barack Obama said Assad should step aside. Believing the president’s words guaranteed decisive follow-up, I told a congressional committee in December 2011 that the regime was a dead man walking. When the president issued his red-line warning, I fearlessly predicted (as a newly private citizen) that crossing the line would bring the Assad regime a debilitating body blow. I still do not understand how such a gap between word and deed could have been permitted. It is an error that transcends Syria.
— James Miller
There are reports of a powerful blast in the hills to the east of the Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad airbase in the Latakia province, from which Russian jets are bombing rebel territory.
NOW Lebanon reports that a pro-regime news page for the Jableh area on Facebook claimed that the blast occurred near the village of Zama, around 12 kilometres from the airbase.
Photos were posted on a pro-regime Facebook pages:
From NOW Lebanon:
Despite the report by Jableh Moment by Moment, the location of Thursday’s blast remains in doubt, with an administrator of another pro-Damascus Facebook page calling on commenters not to mention the name of the area where the explosion took place.
However, some of the participants on the Jableh News Network page mentioned areas where they said the blast was felt.
“The explosion was very strong and next to our village. We don’t know what caused it yet,” said one commenter.
The commenter added that he was from the village of Al-Dalia and that the explosion had been “so strong it shook the whole house.”
Commenters on Jableh Moment by Moment’s post gave similar details to those mentioned by commenter on the Jableh News Network post, with one saying that the explosion had been heard in Al-Dalia while another also said that the explosion had shaken their house.
Al-Dalia is located 13 kilometers south of Zama.
One commenter provided yet further information, saying that the explosion had taken place in a stone quarry near their village. However, the name of the village in question was not mentioned.
As of midday Thursday, Syrian state media has not run any reports on the mysterious blast.
Some reports claimed that the blast was caused by a Scud ballistic missile fired by Jaish al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group which operates in the east of the Hama province.
As NOW Lebanon notes, Jaish al-Islam is not know to have any Scud missiles at their disposal.
The Syrian Revolution Coordinators group have also attributed the blast to a surface-to-surface missile, but have not made any specific claims of the type used or who fired it.
On September 1, Souriat.com reported that Ahrar al-Sham, another Islamist rebel group, had obtained two ballistic missiles.
This tweet claimed that the weapons were located in East Qalamoun, the same area that some are reporting the alleged missile strike into Latakia was conducted from:
Other Twitter users have identified the missile as an Iranian-made Zelzal-2, a weapon which has been exported to Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah: