Iran jumps into the fight too

Bashar al-Assad is getting the band back together for a ground offensive that will take advantage of his new Russian air support:

Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria in the last 10 days and will soon join government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes, two Lebanese sources told Reuters.

“The (Russian) air strikes will in the near future be accompanied by ground advances by the Syrian army and its allies,” said one of the sources familiar with political and military developments in the conflict.

“It is possible that the coming land operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside,” the source added.

Are hundreds of Iranian troops and some Russian airstrikes going to be enough to turn a tide that’s been going against Assad for half a year plus? I’m skeptical that Iran has any more interest in or ability to get itself bogged down in a long slog in Syria than Russia does (Iranian public opinion on aiding Assad directly is notably pretty soft). However, this could bolster Assad’s hand leading up to negotiations, assuming there ever are any negotiations.

On the other hand, the possibility already existed that Russia’s escalation could strengthen radical forces like ISIS and Nusra rather than weakening them, and throwing Shiʿa Iranian ground forces into the mix is only going to increase that possibility. If ISIS can argue that it’s at war with an Assad-Iran-Russia axis, that could be a powerful recruiting tool (likewise for Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham). There’s no reason to think that Russian and Iranian involvement will lead to a quick Assad victory, and the longer the conflict goes, the less it favors Assad and his pals.

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