BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:30 A.M.) – At the start of 2013, the Syrian War was looking unfavorable for the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), as a militant offensive in Aleppo cutoff the city from all government supply lines and the strategic East Ghouta region had all but fallen to Jaysh Al-Islam and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Making matters worse, the government had lost most of Syria’s northern border with Turkey and their western border with Lebanon. This would later prove to be a major issue for the military as foreign militants were pouring into the country from these regions.
Enter Hezbollah and Iran
The Spring of 2013 would prove to be an important period in the Syrian War. Both Hezbollah and Iran would enter the conflict on the side of the government and help the Syrian military regain the initiative in Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus.
Hezbollah’s deployment to Syria helped the government regain the Lebanese border by capturing the strategic crossing at Al-Qusayr, followed by Tal Kalakh and the majority of the Qalamoun Mountains.
The Lebanese group also provided reinforcements to several areas across the country in order to help stabilize these fronts.
While Hezbollah’s entry into the Syrian conflict is often viewed as the first time foreign fighters had entered the war, this is indeed false. Militants from several countries across the world had already entered Syria and began fighting alongside the rebel forces.
Several of these foreign fighters would later join jihadist groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh).
However, unlike Hezbollah, Iran would play a pivotal role behind the scenes in 2013, offering their military advisers to help Damascus concoct a new battle plan.
The plan would focus on a four-corners strategy that would see the Syrian military maintain a presence in four corners of the country, giving the government an area of influence despite the absence of supply routes.
Four Corners Strategy
From 2013 to 2017, the Syrian government maintained a presence in several parts of the country. Since it was difficult to maintain control over the vast desert and mountainous regions, the strategy was to focus on the major cities and spreading out the militants so that the army could regain critical areas around the capital city.
It may appear a bit unorthodox, but the strategy ultimately helped the Syrian military maintain a presence in eastern Syria, where the U.S. and its allies attempted to expand across during the war with ISIS.
For example, the Syrian military kept a presence in the Al-Hasakah Governorate, despite the fact they were surrounded by the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG)
While the Syrian military and the YPG were not fighting each other and their presence in Al-Hasakah was only threatened by ISIS, the army’s decision to stay inside Deir Ezzor city after losing their supply lines from Homs raised a few questions at the time.
Thousands of Syrian troops were besieged in Deir Ezzor and ordered to continue fighting ISIS from 2015 to 2017 when the siege was finally lifted. Prior to the arrival of the Russian Armed Forces in September of 2015, the Deir Ezzor front was under daily attacks by the Islamic State, leaving many to fear for the lives of the people and troops inside the city.
Had the army made the decision to retreat from Deir Ezzor city, ISIS could have sent their forces to other fronts and expanded their presence inside of Syria. Furthermore, it allowed the Syrian Army to maintain control of the city once the U.S.-led Coalition began expanding south of Al-Hasakah.
Finally, the entry of the Russian Armed Forces would play a decisive role in the conflict, as the Syrian Arab Army was able to finally launch multiple offensives to regain most of the country.
Iran still desires a complete military victory in Syria, but with the continued Israeli attacks on their positions in the country and U.S. economic pressure through sanctions, the Islamic Republic has been forced to take a more defensive role in the region.
This defensive role has allowed Russia to champion the recent Syrian military operations, while they concentrate on other matters, including the proxy war in the eastern part of the country.