Every indication is that the Gulf monarchies that prop up the Salafist jihadis waging war on Syria are making a concerted effort, along with their Israeli allies, to change the contours of the conflict and continue to dictate the terms of any future agreement as the siege of Raqqa is to commence in April.
Since the beginning of the year ISIS and Nusra have used suicide bombers to target Shiite pilgrims at shrines outside Damascus.
Anne Barnard reports in "Resurgent Syrian Rebels Surprise Damascus With New Assaults" that
After the government seized the eastern half of Aleppo from rebels last year, it worked hard to create the impression that the war was essentially over. The recent activity, including a series of suicide bombings in Damascus and a rebel attack Thursday on the northern city of Hama, seemed to indicate that the war might be entering a new phase instead.
While the government still seems to be consolidating control over major population centers along Syria’s western spine, it appears at a minimum likely to face a lingering rural insurgency and bombing campaigns in the cities by hard-line jihadist groups.
At the least, the rebel assaults carried a political message: that the insurgents could still disrupt life in the capital and challenge the forces of President Bashar al-Assad at several points around the country, while simultaneously attacking Islamic State fighters.
By mounting a series of simultaneous assaults around the country, the rebels seemed intent on exploiting one of the government forces’ main weaknesses. While they have Russian air support and help on the ground from Iranian-trained militias, they are spread thin after six years of war and the drain of so many men fleeing the country rather than serving in the army.
It was not immediately clear if the rebels could maintain the offensive. Their forces around Damascus have been badly depleted in recent years and their territory rolled back as the government besieged districts and forced their surrender.
And the new assaults raised political concerns, in that they continue the alliance between a spectrum of rebel groups and hard-line Islamists considered terrorists by Russia and the United States.
The rebels are also walking a fine line with Syrian and international public opinion. To build leverage for imminent peace talks, they need to show they can still cause trouble for the government on the ground, undermining its claim that it can control territory and maintain security.
Yet, they stand to pay a huge political price if they ally themselves with groups that have been intensifying Baghdad-style insurgent attacks like the suicide bombing that killed more than 30 people last week in a historic courthouse in Damascus.Barnard goes on to describe the central coordination at work in the recent offensive:
There were reports late Tuesday of several new insurgent assaults on government territory taking place at once: one in Hama Province and another on the western outskirts of Aleppo. In recent weeks, rebels have also launched attacks in Daraa Province to the south. Until recently, fighters there had lain low at the behest of foreign sponsors including the United States, but it now appears they have either decided to defy their patrons or persuaded them to heat up the front again.
Rebel and jihadi groups were also advancing against the Islamic State in the Qalamoun region, north of Damascus.The immediate goal appears to be to protect the caliphate, to draw government forces away from the battle to retake Raqqa; to that end, Israel is acting as the jihadis air force.
Baghdad has lived with suicide bombings for more than a decade. I don't think Nusra moving to a conventional terror campaign is going to change anything. What is a game-changer is if Israel substantially expands its Syrian target list. I can't imagine that they would risk directly jousting with Russia. Liberman's threat to destroy Syria's Russian-supplied air defenses seems outlandish. The problem is it can't be completely dismissed.
Any mojo Trump has left is in foreign policy, and it is bleeding out fast. (There was some good news yesterday when it was reported that Rex Tillerson will skip the NATO summit next month.) If W. can have a statue in Albania, why can't Trump have one in Rojava?