Where is Syria crisis heading?

As Islamist groups gain influence and the so-called moderate opposition becomes further divided, it seems that President Bashar al-Assad is likely to remain in the foreseeable future.

al-monitor Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with al-Mayadin TV station, Damascus, Oct. 21, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters.

Topics covered

syrian civil war, syria, opposition, jabhat al-nusra, islamists, islamic state of iraq and al-sham, chemical weapons, bashar al-assad

Dec 19, 2013

It has been a rough winter in Syria this year. Amid cold weather and the raging war, the number of casualties keep rising, now approaching 130,000 deaths. About 9 million people have been displaced, having driven one-third of the population from their homes.

Despite such a shameful human tragedy, nobody wants to assume responsibility. Meetings do not solve the crisis but only allow the sponsors to say, "Look, we are trying." French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said recently that he is afraid nothing useful will come out of the Geneva II meeting Jan. 24.

President Bashar al-Assad surrendered his chemical weapons quickly, without a fuss. This not only comforted the United States, but made life easier for Assad as well. Since that day we have been observing important developments on the political and military fronts. Assad not only persuaded Washington to give up the option of force but also bought time for himself.

We can see that he is not squandering this highly valuable time he has acquired. He continues to make moves to reshape the political and military arenas. While he is consolidating his political power internally, the opposition continues to crumble. Externally, Assad has the increasing support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The anti-Assad international front is losing its cohesiveness. Western countries and the alliance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are at a crossroads.

Assad has not been idle in the military field. His strategy is focused on three elements: 

First, by capturing strategically important locations he is expanding his area of influence. Only last week, by taking over the control of the Damascus-Latakia highway, he scored a major military success. He will certainly continue with similar efforts.

Second, he's trying to exploit the actions of radical groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Islamic Front, which are affiliated with al-Qaeda. About 5,000 citizens of Western countries fighting against Assad is a major source of concern and fear for the West. Assad, who is not seen as a global threat like the radical Islamists, appears to be preferred by the Westerners. Actions of radical groups to impose their authority and install a new way of life by resorting to terror, fear and violence may well encourage civilians to see Assad as a savior. It will not be a surprise if Assad wins the hearts and minds of people not by what he does but by what the opposition does wrong.

Finally, Assad is continuing to reshape the area of operations in the north with the direct or indirect role of the Kurdish PYD [Democratic Union Party]. If the PYD plays its part well, it is bound to be well-rewarded after Geneva II.

Former CIA chief Michael Hayden last week spoke of three scenarios for Syria. First is continuation of the civil war. The second is the disintegration of Syria, and the third is Assad winning the civil war. For Hayden, the last was the best of the three scary scenarios. It's obvious that we will be talking of “Syria with Assad" for a long time to come.   

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More from  Nihat Ali Ozcan