Syria: Assad Regime Edging Closer To Collapse… But War Will Go On

The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad appears to be edging closer to collapse. Admittedly, such speculation has emerged before, only to be proven premature. However, the Syrian rebels have stepped up their attacks over the past month or so, causing airlines to suspend flights to and from Damascus Airport for three days recently and prompting the government to shut down the internet for two days. The rebels also claimed to have downed a fighter jet. Meanwhile, mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Jihad Makdissi, former spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, leading to speculation that he has defected to a Western country.

Also drawing the attention of Western leaders are reports that Assad’s regime is preparing to use chemical weapons, despite having pledged that it would not do so against Syrians. If Assad is indeed planning to use chemical weapons, then this could be interpreted as a sign of desperation stemming from military setbacks against the rebels. For its part, the US has previously warned Assad that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a ‘red line’ that could trigger American military intervention – a warning that was repeated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week. Clearly, if Washington does launch air strikes against the regime, then this would be a huge boost for the rebels.

However, even if President Assad is removed from office or flees Damascus, this does not mean the war will be over. For many months now there have been reports that Assad’s Alawite regime has been transferring military resources to Syria’s north-western coastal region, where it hopes to create a de facto Alawite mini-state as an alternative power centre if Damascus falls. If this transpires, then the war will go on. Yet even if this putative Alawite stronghold does not emerge, Syria’s civil war is likely to continue, post-Assad. The Alawite minority will probably fight the Sunni majority, and other groups such as Christians and Kurds could take up arms against the new regime. So the result could be a new government that does not control large parts of the country – which is similar to what we have today.