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Russia, Iran Rack Up Gains In "Fiercest Syrian Fighting Yet"

Last week, we said the following about the next stage of Syria’s civil war: “In case it wasn’t clear enough what was set to happen soon after the Russian air force had spent a few days softening up anti-regime positions on the ground, allow us to spell it out: with the opposition on the run thanks to days of aerial bombardment, Iran will now send in the Hezbollah/Shiite militia/Quds clean up crew, who will personally ensure that whoever is left in the wake of the Su-34 strikes is swiftly eliminated at close range.

As we went on to explain, the Russians are providing air cover for what amounts to an Iranian ground invasion in support of the Assad regime.

Losing the country to the West would be a decisively bad turn of events for Tehran, which needs Syria in order to maintain the regional balance of power and preserve supply routes to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Of course the Iranians have been on the ground in Syria for years, but as we’ve explained on a number of occasions, Tehran needed to remain somewhat cautious about the optics, given the nuclear negotiations. Now that those negotiations have been largely concluded and, more importantly, now that Iran has the Russian superpower stamp of approval, all pretense that this isn’t effectively a ground incursion has been abandoned. Case in point, here’s Reuters with the latest:

Syrian army and allied forces supported by Russian warplanes made further advances as they pressed an offensive against insurgents on Monday, in the fiercest clashes for nearly a week, a monitor said.


Russian jets carried out at least 30 air strikes on the town of Kafr Nabuda in Hama province in western Syria, and hundreds of shells hit the area as the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters seized part of it, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.


Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have in the past few days recaptured territory close to the government's coastal heartland in the west thanks to Russia's intervention, reversing rebel advances made earlier this year.


Pro-government forces including the Lebanese group Hezbollah on Monday captured the southern part of Kafr Nabuda, the Observatory's Rami Abdulrahman said.


The fighting, shelling and air strikes killed and wounded dozens of insurgents, he said.


"These are the most violent battles in the northern countryside (of Hama) since the start of joint operations several days ago" between the Russian air force and Syrian ground forces, he said.


Lebanese-based television station al-Mayadeen also reported the takeover of the southern part of Kafr Nabuda.

Kafr Nabuda's capture would bring government forces closer to insurgent-held positions along the main highway that links Syria's main cities. "The town is very important and strategic," Abdulrahman said.

And more from BBC:

Syrian forces backed by Hezbollah militants from Lebanon are said to have made significant advances against rebels after heavy Russian air strikes.


Government gains are being reported in Idlib, Hama and Latakia provinces.


Russia says its aircraft carried out more than 60 missions over Syria in the past 24 hours, and that the Islamic State group was its main target.


But the Russian strikes appear to have impacted heavily on rebels fighting both the government and IS.


The main battlefront is currently close to the key highway that links the capital Damascus with other major cities, including Aleppo, and President Bashar al-Assad's forces are believed to be seeking to cut off rebels in Idlib.


Before Russia's intervention, Idlib had all but fallen to a rebel coalition that had been seriously threatening Mr Assad and his heartland as well as fighting IS, BBC Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher reports.


Government forces are basically trying to win back areas they lost earlier this year, to the north of the city of Hama, and in the northern mountains of Latakia province near the coast. Rebels had penetrated there after unifying their ranks and with more concerted backing from their outside supporters, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.



That posed a real threat to the heartland of Bashar al-Assad's regime, and it is almost certainly what triggered the Russian intervention and a stepped-up role by Iran.

Again, it's the Russians in the sky and Hezbollah on the ground and as everyone is well aware, Hezbollah is just Iran.

Meanwhile, Tehran's habit of denying its official presence on the ground suffers from the rather inconvenient fact that Iranian soldiers keep dying in Syria. On Friday, Reuters reported that Hossein Hamedani, an Iranian general and close friend of Quds commander Qassem Soleimani was killed while "advising" Syrian soldiers near Aleppo: 

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards general has been killed near Aleppo while advising the Syrian army on their battle against Islamic State fighters, the guards said in a statement on Friday.


The Guards said General Hossein Hamedani was killed on Thursday night and that he had "played an important role ... reinforcing the front of Islamic resistance against the terrorists".


Iran is the main regional ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has provided military and economic support during Syria's four-year-old civil war.


Hamedani, a veteran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, was made deputy chief commander of the elite forces in 2005.

What all of the above suggests is that the tide has quite clearly turned and while there will undoubtedly be more Iranians going home in body bags before it's all said and done, it's now just a matter of time before the US and its "coalition" partners will have to decide on whether to see Assad back in power or else put boot to ground to counter the offensive because suddenly, the "freedom fighters" aren't doing so well.