For Assad’s supporters and opponents alike, Russia’s increasing willingness to throw its full military power behind him amounts to a game-changer.

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BEIRUT — Russia and Syria unleashed a coordinated assault by land, air and sea Wednesday, seeking to reverse recent gains by rebel groups that were beginning to encroach on the Syrian coast, a critical bastion of power for President Bashar Assad.

Moscow said it had fired 26 cruise missiles at Syrian targets from naval vessels in the Caspian Sea, 900 miles away, though it was not immediately clear whether they had struck in the area of the ground offensive.

Even though the offensive is in its early stages, the coordinated attack has revealed the outline of a newly deepened and operationally coordinated alliance among Syria, Iran, Russia and the group Hezbollah, according to an official with the alliance, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military strategy.

The official said the Russian intervention — a result of plans by the four allies over at least four to six months — had rejuvenated Syrian government forces and put to rest any doubts about Russia’s commitment to the Syrian president.

Despite Western calls for his departure, Assad remains in power more than four years into a war that has killed a quarter of a million people and displaced half the country.

For Assad’s supporters and opponents alike, Russia’s increasing willingness to throw its full military power behind him amounts to a game-changer.

For his supporters, it gives a much-needed respite to depleted ranks of fighters and bolsters morale. For his opponents, it means taking on a vastly stronger foe and severely constrains options — for instance, virtually ruling out the imposition of a no-fly zone or buffer zone along the Turkish border.

Russia has focused its operations on the insurgent coalition known as the Army of Conquest, or Jaish al-Fatah, rather than the Islamic State group, according to the official from the pro-government alliance. This is because it is Army of Conquest positions that most threaten the crucial government-held coastal province of Latakia, while Islamic State group forces are farther east and more easily contained. Latakia is Assad’s family’s ancestral home and the heartland of his fellow Alawites, who provide a critical bloc of support.

Wednesday was the first time since the spring that the government’s forces had moved “from defense to offense,” the official said.

The assault seemed to focus on an area straddling northern Hama province and southern Idlib province, where insurgent command of high ground threatens the coast. The initial ground attacks took place around three villages that insurgents consider the first line of defense of the strategic Jebel al-Zawiya area.

The bombardment appeared to reach new levels of intensity in some places. One video showed white smoke rising above a village’s minarets, while another appeared to show at least a dozen explosions — the person filming described the weapons as rockets — in less than five minutes.

A number of times in Wednesday’s fighting, insurgents fired advanced TOW anti-tank missiles, supplied covertly by the CIA, at Syria’s Russian-made tanks, leaving the impression of a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Rebel groups, including two that have received U.S. aid, posted videos that showed the guided missiles sailing toward approaching tanks and destroying them.

The main thrust of the offensive was aimed at areas held by insurgent groups that oppose both Assad and the Islamic State group, including the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate. But there were airstrikes elsewhere in Syria, according to SANA, the state news agency, that said Syrian and Russian warplanes had worked together to attack targets in Al Bab, a city in eastern Aleppo province long held by the Islamic State group.

While Russian officials said the missiles launched from the Caspian Sea had targeted the Islamic State group, Western officials said the great majority of the attacks had been directed against rebel groups fighting Assad. There were no reports of large explosions in Islamic State group-held areas to the east, making it less likely that the cruise missiles had hit the group’s strongholds.

The news of the missile attacks came in a televised meeting between the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and President Vladimir Putin.

“That we fired from the territory of the Caspian Sea, at a range greater than 1,500 kilometers, and hit targets precisely, this shows high qualifications,” Putin said, referring to naval crew members. Shoigu said that no civilians had been injured.

The ground operation will eventually widen to include new contingents of fighters from Hezbollah, which has long played a key role on the front lines, as well as the current configuration of Syrian forces backed by Russians in the air, according to the alliance official. In addition, Iranian military advisers have been active on the ground in Syria and would most likely be involved in such a crucial operation.

There were no reports of Russians’ joining in the fighting, though an official refused to rule out the possibility of “volunteers” becoming involved.

The ground offensive is meant first to push the insurgents out of northern Hama province, and then to move north into Idlib province, according to the official and to diplomats and analysts in the region. In addition to Jebel al-Zawiya, the government is trying to reclaim Jisr al-Shughour, a city in Idlib that insurgents captured in March, a victory that was considered an ominous sign for the Syrian government.

The Army of Conquest is an Islamist coalition that includes the Nusra Front. Often fighting alongside it are more secular groups calling themselves the Free Syrian Army, including some that have received U.S. aid. Russia has, so far, refused to make a distinction between the Army of Conquest and the Islamic State group, labeling both as terrorists. Some Free Syrian Army groups have been hit in Russian strikes.

On Wednesday, insurgents said they had managed to blunt the start of the new ground offensive.

“The regime stopped progressing, but the mortars are still hitting us,” said Abu Imad, a fighter with the Islamist group Jund al-Aqsa, who gave only a nom de guerre for safety. He said a united response by several rebel factions had helped repel the attack.

One fighter was being hailed as the “TOW king” after he was said to have destroyed four tanks using TOW missiles. Activists circulated pictures of him beaming over a celebratory meal, and of other fighters riding in a newly captured tank.

When asked at a news conference in Rome about the ground offensive, Defense Secretary Ash Carter lamented “the Assad regime’s use of violence against its own people.”

Carter added, “To the extent that Russia enables that, that’s the fundamental reason we believe Russia is making a mistake in their actions in Syria.”