Syria's moderate rebels are gaining ground

Despite the moderates’ recent gains, their weaknesses remain apparent. They have significant supply shortages, as they still have limited access to ammunition and other military resources. Despite last month’s U.N. Security Council resolution to allow aid to rebel-controlled areas, humanitarian supplies have been slow to arrive in desperate areas that are under siege. Coordination among them is still feeble. In early July, moderate rebel groups announced the creation of a combined emergency reaction force in Aleppo, but there is no sign on the battlefield of such forces actually deploying together. They have also still failed to figure out how to reach out to greater portions of the regime base, especially the Alawite community, which forms the core of the regime’s support. Islamic State gains in eastern and northern Syria have likely increased the Alawites’ fears of extermination — thereby reinforcing their support for Assad.

There was one positive political sign among the armed opposition, however. For weeks, there have been visible tensions between al-Nusra Front, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and the moderate armed groups. In months past, these diverse groups had coordinated on the ground in the desperate fight against the regime, and then also coordinated to push back the Islamic State. Earlier in July, however, al-Nusra Front quit the arbitration committees overseeing relations among the armed opposition groups in Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs, saying that it did so because the moderate groups “have a different political project.” This announcement followed a May 17 communiqué by more moderate Islamists, in which they identified their goal as a state ruled by law (they did not say Islamic law), stated that they would not retaliate against communities that had supported the regime, and promised to respect minorities’ rights.