Assad: on his way out?

bashar-al-assadYes, one can safely say that Syrian President Bashar Assad could unfortunately be winning the battle, but not necessarily the war. At best, he will continue for a little longer, but eventually he is on his way out. So far, his line of command seems, for now, to be sustainable — thanks to Iranian-Russian direct support, but these same supporters will, at one point, have to consider different outcomes that would ease the way for a negotiated retirement. This would nicely fit with the Russian proposition of a ‘federal solution’ as Moscow recently suggested for a final settlement in the country.

Of course there is nothing concrete yet but the latest agreement of both United States and Russia on a joint plan to cease hostilities in Syria, is of a great significance at this critical moment of the Syrian war. Both the Syrian government and the main opposition umbrella group have accepted the terms of the joint deal between Moscow and Washington. The growing threat from Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has obviously made it logically possible for the Americans and Russians to reach such a deal. Their inability to speak previously in one voice and act with conviction has most certainly encouraged extremist groups such as Daesh and Jabhat Al Nusra to seize large sections not only in Syria, but also in Iraq.

Assad had already questioned whether it would be possible to cease hostilities and implement the ceasefire. BuAssad will not decide the future of war or peace in Syria without the full blessing of his main backers. Russian air strikes and direct financial and logistic support from Iran have lately helped win key battles in the five-year-long war. In fact, Assad would have gone long ago had it not been for the  help extended by Iran since the conflict began. Even this direct help with thousands of Iranian troops and special forces on the ground were insufficient  to sustain the Assad government as the time went on. Consequently, the powers in Tehran commanded thousands of ‘Hezbollah’ militia to cross from Lebanon into Syria to fight off opposition groups led by the Free Syrian Army in various strategic positions.

The devastation that surrounds those that remain in Syrian cities
Devastation surrounds the vast majority of those who remain in Syrian cities

Many analysts agree it is likely that without Iran’s backing in the early years of the war, Assad would have become history. Now with the continued deployment of Iranian ground troops and various militia under Hezbollah’s banner, as well as the colossal Russian air power, Assad feels reassured that his position on the battlefield is sustainable.

Assad has  lost the many friends recruited during the first ten years of his rule that he inherited from his father, who controlled Syria for three decades. He was the darling of former British prime minister Tony Blair and former French president Jacques Chirac in the early 2000s. Assad and his English-born wife were, for a period, on top of the guest list of several world leaders.

Assad also succeeded in gaining the trust of Turkey’s president and had very close relations with the Saudis. But all of that is gone now; even his former friends are now saying  Assad must go. It is difficult to imagine how a head of state, whose hands are bloodied by the abhorrent killings of 280,000 of his countrymen, turning more than half of its remaining population into refugees  can hang on to power for any meaningful length of time. The best his backers can do now is get him to accept a process of transition in preparation for his ultimate retirement. Whatever the outcome of the current ceasefire, the era of the Assad dynasty is fast coming to a close.

This edited article by Middle East analyst Mustapha Karkouti, originally appeared in Gulf News

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