What exactly is happening in al-Qusayr? I have no idea, but I’m going to tell you what I think anyway, seeing as how the biggest beneficiaries of the media blackout on Syria are the bloggers, tweeters, and other distant readers whose impressionistic musings are based almost entirely on a process of triangulating between other second-hand narratives.
Let’s begin with this report in al-Akhbar, which claims that the Syrian Army and Hizbullah’s attempt to retake al-Qusayr from the Free Syrian Army is meant to prevent the establishment of a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim stronghold on the border of Lebanon and an international war:
Retaking the city would also put an end to the possibility of setting up a hardline Salafi emirate in Qusayr, which would have served as a thorn in the side of Hezbollah and the Shia Lebanese villages of the Hermel region, and could have easily led to a full-fledged sectarian war on both sides of the border.
A Salafist emirate, you say? That sounds scary. No wonder Hezbollah has rushed to the defense of the beleaguered residents of this territory. Taking a page from the Lebanese Army’s playbook on Nahr al-Bared (which was a splendid success for that organization on all accounts), Hezbollah is obviously trying to address the cancer of Salafist extremism before it metastasizes.
But wait! This piece by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker contains the following nugget by an unnamed Washington official, about the real significance of the Homs region (which contains al-Qusayr):
According to the most common prediction of the war’s eventual end, Assad will lead Syria’s Alawites to an enclave on the Mediterranean coast, which includes the major ports of Latakia and Tartous, where the Alawites predominate. American officials say that Assad is trying to lay the groundwork. The regime has ethnically cleansed several Sunni-majority villages on routes that lead to the coast. And, according to the American intelligence official, the regime appears to be stockpiling weapons and supplies in the area. Perhaps most suggestive is the tenacity with which it has held on to the city of Homs, which lies on the highway between Damascus and the coast. Homs would give an Alawite rump state unimpeded access to Hezbollah, and to Iran. “Homs is the key,’’ the official said. “If they can hold it, then they can have the Alawite enclave on the coast that’s linked to Hezbollah and backed by the Iranians, and the Russian ships could still come into the port.”
So, what is al-Qusayr (besides the probable site of the Battle of Kadesh, between Ramesses II and Muwatalli II in 1274 BCE)? Is Hezbollah losing fighters to prevent the creation of a “Salafist emirate” or to lay the groundwork for an Alawite enclave on the Mediterranean coast?
Your guess is as good as mine. Seriously.