August 21, 2012
Bashar al-Assad's Alawi-based regime in Syria does not appear to be on the verge of departure. It will not go easily whilst Iran continues its strong support for Bashar al-Assad. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have failed, the prospects for a negotiated transition have largely ended, and Syria now likely faces a long, grinding insurgency with few foundations for a viable post-Assad scenario.
The regime's military capability stands as demonstrated by its bloody reassertion of control over Damascus. Along with the support of Russia, its determination to survive at any price could draw out the endgame. Marc Lynch says that:
Diplomatically isolated, financially strapped and increasingly constrained by a wide range of international sanctions, al-Assad's regime has been left with little room to maneuver. It resorts to indiscriminate military force and uses shabiha gangs and propaganda to inflict terror....Day by day, through accumulating mistakes, the regime is losing legitimacy and control of Syria and its people. Nonetheless, it's premature to think the end is close
The Syrian opposition to brutal autocratic rule appears to be increasingly divided between Islamists and secularists. The US and its allies (eg., Saudi Arabia) seek al-Assad's removal but they fear a violent struggle for the succession where jihadist factions exert greater influence.
The conflict within Syria appears to be one of the Sunni Muslims of Syria taking back their country and pushing out the minority that have been oppressing them for generations. Spurred on by Iran and Hizballah and bolstered by Russian support, while facing an increasingly potent insurgency backed -- politically if not militarily -- from abroad, the chances are that the regime will neither survive nor “fall,” but gradually erode and mutate into militias fighting an all-out civil war.
The conflict has a regional dimension in that much of the funding for the armed Syrian opposition comes from Saudi Arabia and other western Gulf sources, though western security agencies are also involved. The more al-Assad’s regime is threatened, the more Iranian interests too are at stake. Tehran is hugely concerned at the possible loss of its partner in Damascus, which Washington (backed by its close Saudi ally, the main supporters of Syria’s rebels) is determined to see gone.
The agenda of a non-democratic Saudi Arabia is one of a very weakened Iran, either by years of Western sanctions or by a potential Israeli attack. The outcome of long-term violence in Syria would be acceptable to those Saudi's whose primary interest is weakening Iran, rather than protecting civilians or building a more democratic Syria.
The greater the involvement of regional players the less Syrians will remain in control of their destiny, despite the awakening of a broad popular movement, motivated by a sense of wholesale dispossession of their wealth, dignity and destiny.