With Assad’s forces control over the “Islamic State’s“ last positions in southern Damascus, Daraa governorate seems to await an ominous future, for in the past a few days, it has dominated the political scene, filled with Syrian, Russian and Iranian official statements about the approaching shift of the confrontations to the governorate, which threaten to breach its quiet state that started with the application of the “de-escalation” agreement, signed in 2017.
In the context of the anticipated battle, Mujtaba Ferdousi Pour, the Iranian Ambassador to Jordan, assured that Iranian forces would not participate in the battles of Southern Damascus if they were to break out, which has been translated into reassurances to Jordan, as it feared the repercussions of the militias’, Lebanese “Hezbollah” in particular, interference in battles near its northern borders.
“The Khmeimim Airbase’s Central Channel,” non-official, has released information about the same issue, through which it hinted at the collapse of the “de-scalation” agreement due to “al-Nusra Front,” under Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, and the “Islamic State’s” presence in Daraa.
Nassib Border Crossing and Bypass Roads
Daraa’s battel has been turned into “a matter of time” by the above-mentioned developments; however, the several potential targets and the wide geographical area to witness the expected confrontations, render Assad’s forces’ targets in the area ambiguous, for what might be imposed by interventions and international, as well as regional understandings on the battle might impose a single track on Assad’s forces.
Nassib Border Crossing is the most discussed by Assad’s forces and the opposition, for since 2015, upon being controlled by the opposition factions, the crossing has been in a state of pull-push and stumbling negotiations within the Jordanian efforts to open it again. Nevertheless, the Assad’s regime and the opposition’s entities persistence on their conditions prevented reaching any agreement about the crossing, turning it, thus, into one of the expected battle’s targets according to “Abu Hudhayfa al-Shami,” a military leader in “Tharir al-Sham,” southern Syria.
“The relatively short distance between Assad’s forces’ current positions and the crossing does not at all indicate that the battle will be easy,” al-Shami told Enab Baladi.
The Assad’s forces’ positions in the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh are 20km from Nassib crossing to the north, as for the forces’ positions in Daraa al-Mahatta, they lie 13 km away from the crossing to the west. If the forces were to initiate their attack towards the crossing from these two positions, they will be compelled to control the following towns in the eastern countryside of Daraa, Om elmiathin, al-Ghariyah al-Gharbiyah, Saida, Al-Naimah, Nasib, Garaz and Daraa al-Balad, which constitute half the city of Daraa.
The military leader in “Tahrir al-Sham” has also pointed to the large agricultural areas between the eastern countryside of Daraa and the city of Daraa, saying that the battle is “a fate-determining battle, which will not be a picnic at all.”
Three major factions, among the most prominent military formations in the governorate of Daraa, are positioned in the mentioned areas, including “Al-Thawra Army,” “Shabab al-Sunah Forces” and “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” a long with the factions constituting the “al-Bunyan al-Marsoos” operation room, functioning in the neighborhood of Daraa city.
“Al-Shami” believes that the factions’ points of strength relating to this axis lie in “the dense number of fighters and great weaponry, in addition to the fact that the battle will levies all of Daraa’s eastern countryside.”
He, however, fears that Assad’s forces might resort to the scorched land policy in an area populated with more than 300 people and their attempt at avoiding Daraa al-Balad to maneuver in its surrounding, specifically in the areas of az Zumal, Kharabb al-Shahem Brigade and the military base, which will help them control al-Jumruk al-Qadeem and split Daraa’s eastern and western countryside, thus, besieging Daraa al-Balad and forcing it to accept a reconciliation.
Tall al-Ḩārrah: a Possible Second Target
Apart from Nassib border crossing, Tall al-Ḩārrah stands for the second most discussed target, for it is the highest of Daraa’s northern countryside’s high places, overlooking massive areas of the Daraa and al-Quneitra’s rural parts, which the opposition factions were able to seize after they succeeded in controlling it October 2014.
The former leader believes that the Tall constitutes “a desired target for the Russian forces more than it does for Assad’s forces, so that Russia would be able to return to the area and fix communication and reconnaissance points.” Similar to Nassib border crossing, to reach al-Ḩārrah starting from their positions in the town and brigade of Jadieh, Assad’s forces must control the town of Zamrin and the city of al-Haraa; they might also be compelled to conduct an attack against the town of Kafr Shams.
According to “al-Shami,” losing Tall al- Ḩārrah will lead to losing all the towns in the rural parts of Daraa and Quneitra, the reason why thousands of fighters will have to defend it, making the battle “so fierce” for Assad’s forces; he demanded that Assad’s forces positioning a few kilometers at the east of the city of Nawa must not be neglected, especially that this position might trigger them to conduct a real or a fake battle in sync with the attack on Tall al-Ḩārrah, in an attempt to distract the opposition factions.
The same scenario and worries, according to the leader, apply to the Tall al-Moutawak, to the south of the city of Inkhil, the control over which provides the ability to overlook and cut the road between the two cities of Inkhil and Jasim. The positioning of “Khalid ibn al-Walid Army” fighters, accused of showing loyalty to the “Islamic State,” in the same area should not also be ignored.
The Hidden Target in Busra al-Harir
The town of Busra al-Harir, eastern countryside of Daraa, is one of the targets described “as hidden for not being a matter of interest for an umber of the opposition factions.” Assad’s forces might utilize this factor to launch an attack, fake or real, to entice clamor to distract the factions.
Only a few kilometers, to the east, separate Assad’s forces from the town, in As-Suwayda governorate, and other seven kilometers, starting from their positions in the city of Izra to the west, separate the forces from the town, the importance of which lies in the idea that by controlling it Assad’s forces will be able to connect it with the city of Izra, thus conduct a siege over all the Lajat area, the northern countryside of Daraa, and alienate it from the rest of the liberated areas.
Excluding the Lajat area, according to the military leader, has a hidden target to it, which is “to prevent it from participating in the battle and to attempt imposing a pressure on it to push it to surrender without fighting.” The Lajat is known for its rigid geographical nature and tribal environment which turn it into a fortress for opposition factions, helping them undertake battles for several months.
The city of Da’el and the town of Abtaa, in the present, are out of all calculations according to the leader, who believes that “Assad’s forces are seeking to achieve a power balance changing victory in the south, which both Da’el and Abtaa do not offer, which additionally might rather indulge them in a long battle of limited goals,” the same applies to the besieged Mahajjah and the adjacent town of al-najyeh, which the Russia-backed Assad’s forces aim to use to pressure the opposition factions, to force them join the “national reconciliation,” as to neutralize the two towns from the military action that might be costly at the level of human casualties, while less effective in terms of changing the power balance.
In the past a few years, Assad’s forces have repeatedly counted on the policy that centralizes on splitting the areas and separating the towns and cities from each other, in addition to imposing pressure on the opposition factions and the popular incubator to surrender in most of the battles; the forces have succeeded in astern Ghouta, eastern Qalamun, the northern countryside of Homs and other areas.
The fragmented nature of Daraa governorate and the opposition factions’ split into dozens of factions helped and will help in duplicating the same scenario, unless all the factions, political, social or military entities, get to realize their own situation and that they must realigned, for the area is today heating up in anticipation of the decisive battle.