by Prof. Eyal Zisser
-- the Syrian regime is bleeding. Its forces are stretched too thin and are being worn down across hundreds of flashpoints throughout the country. The regime is struggling to recruit the manpower it needs to use as "cannon fodder" on the killing fields.
In Damascus and Beirut last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah proclaimed the launch of the "Qalamoun Mountains campaign," aimed at restoring control of the strategic range on the Syrian-Lebanese border. The two leaders admitted to a recent string of defeats, but took solace in the fact that in any war of existence, such as the one they are currently waging, there are ups and downs.
Reports from the Qalamoun region itself, however, reveal that in the meantime Hezbollah fighters and the Syrian soldiers are sustaining considerable losses on the battlefield. There have also been reports of widespread panic among the Syrian leadership and preparations to abandon the capital.
Despite these reports, however, the civil war raging in Syria is still far from ending. The last few months have not been kind to the Syrian president, but that is the nature of this war -- a bitter and bloody struggle for survival in which a wave of victories is often followed by a colliding wave of defeats, such that the difference on the ground remains negligible.
In the early days of the Syrian civil war, it appeared Assad's fall was imminent. We recall in this context comments made by then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who predicted that Assad's days in power were numbered. But then Assad recovered, thanks in no small part to help from Hezbollah, dispatched at the behest of the Iranians to help him. It seemed then that Assad would survive after all. Now the tide has again turned.
Three interrelated developments have led to the belief that Assad's fall is forthcoming:
Firstly, the rebel camp has unified its ranks, with several prominent rebel groups emerging from within, most of them with radical Islamist orientations. The most important of these groups is Islamic State, located in eastern Syria, and the Nusra Front, positioned along Syria's northern and southern borders. These groups have managed to provide an alternative, although unfavorable to Western eyes, to the Assad regime and act as a counterweight to his army and supporters.
Secondly, the Syrian regime is bleeding. Its forces are stretched too thin and are being worn down across hundreds of flashpoints throughout the country. The regime is struggling to recruit the manpower it needs to use as "cannon fodder" on the killing fields. While Assad enjoys support from different sectors of the Syrian public -- for example from the upper classes in the large cities -- they too are of the Sunni persuasion. Only Assad's Alawite tribesmen are willing to fight and sacrifice their lives for him. The Alawites comprise barely 10 percent of the Syrian population and cannot provide a counterbalance, at least not numbers-wise, to their Sunni rivals who represent the overwhelming majority of the Syrian populace. Meanwhile, the deployment of a few thousand well-trained and motivated Hezbollah fighters is still not enough to truly change the reality on the ground in Syria.
Thirdly, in the past year the rebels have strung together a series of battlefield successes, which together pose the beginning of a real threat to the Assad regime in Damascus. Last summer they conquered most of the Syrian Golan Heights, and this sector will likely be used as a jumping board from which to threaten the capital. Several weeks ago, the rebels were able to take Idlib and Jisr al-Shughour, two key cities in northwestern Syria that provide territorial continuity for the rebels all the way to the Turkish border. This also allows them to threaten the Syrian coastal region, where Assad's loyal Alawite tribe is situated.
The momentum in Syria is now in the hands of the rebels, who are swarming over the country like an unstoppable locust cloud. Assad, meanwhile, has too few hands and too short a reach to stunt their advance.
He needs a miracle to survive in the long run, and devoid of such a miracle -- for example if the Turks and Saudis suddenly stop supporting the rebels or if the Obama administration decides to step in and save him -- his situation will only continue to deteriorate. Regardless, we are still talking about a lengthy process, full of ups and downs, that could take many long months or even years. Syria's citizens, meanwhile, will continue to pay the price.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.