There have been two big pieces of news coming out of Syria recently.
First there is the battle of Qusayr, of which a helpful map is here (the same featured above). The reports coming from this battle are frustratingly conflicted, with some alleging the town being overrun by Assad’s Hezbollah allies, while others focus on significant Hezbollah losses. Still, one has to imagine the odds overall favoring the combination of Hezbollah’s experienced guerrillas and Assad’s heavy materials over the rebel’s inexperienced recruits. Moreover, as the aforementioned map nicely shows, Qusayr seems surrounded from three directions by Assad’s forces, while the rebels are divided among themselves over a dozen of different brigades. Should the Assad forces succeed in taking Qusayr, the significance would be twofold: not only would Damascus be linked up to the Alawite enclave in Syria’s North, but the path would be cleared for Assad’s forces to focus on rebel holdouts in Homs.
The second story, which has received somewhat less attention, is the breaking of the rebels’s siege around the Assad base of Wadi Deif in Idlib province. If Qusayr represents the road to Homs, Idlib province is the road from Homs to Aleppo. For several months until the Spring of 2013, rebel forces, having control of most of Idlib province, had surrounded the two remaining military bases under Assad’s control, Wadi Deif and Hamadiyeh. Since April 2013, this trend of rebel ascendency has apparently been reversed. Owing to the fractured command structure of the rebels as well as a Syrian Army subterfuge, in which Syrian Army soldiers donned rebel ‘uniforms’ (including, for example, the typical Jabhat-Al-Nusra head bands), the Syrian army was able to take control of the critical villages of Sahyan and Babuleen, breaking the siege and opening the road for reinforcements to Wadi Deif. The consequence of Assad’s military success in Idlib in some way parallels the significance of a victory in Qusayr: where the latter would open to road to Homs, the former would open the road to Aleppo, potentially allowing Assad to secure all the important cities in Syria’s most populated Western half. (Clearly securing military bases and central roads in Idlib would not mean securing the whole province; but as Assad’s overall military strategy has shown, strategically it is not very valuable for the rebels to hold swaths of countryside– it is strategically-located military hubs and their access roads that can turn the tide of battle).
What would Assad victories in Qusayr and Idlib mean for the Syrian war as a whole? As Jean Aziz explains insightfully, it would free up Assad’s forces to take the battle to Damascus. In particular, the battle might focus on the towns of Barzeh and Yabrud, which provide access to Damascus from the East and North respectively.