I had a long chat this morning with one of my close Syrian contacts. He is always up to date with what is happening behind the scenes and is probably the best connected Syrian in the South. I stayed with him and his family for 2 weeks when I was in Jordan, I know this guy well and he is always very open with me.
I asked him about the situation on the ground. He says that now the war is in an effective stalemate. Neither the government or the rebels have the strength to win. The rebels have pretty much given up on trying to fight in Damascus as it is too well defended and they are lacking the equipment they need to push forward. It is now a situation where each side almost play with each other, taking turns to take and then lose a position but without either side making any real progress now.
This, despite the huge number of well trained and equipped Hezbollah fighters now in the country who are fighting with the regime and are much better fighters than the regular Syrian army. Over 3000 of them in Damascus, another 3000 or so in Homs, about 1500 in Daraa and close to 4000 in the Aleppo area. Even they have changed tactics, no longer concentrating so much on full frontal attacks but instead rather more use of snipers and hit and run attacks as they realize they can’t take the rebels head on and win.
He said that they are getting a certain amount of help from the USA with regard to intelligence and satellite images of regime positions etc. But he also said that they have been told by the USA which positions they will help with and which positions they wont help with. What this means is that there is obviously a deal somewhere that the Regime will be given certain protected areas and the rebels also are given their areas, with the main fighting happening around the edges of these. Hence the stalemate.
What is very clear is how tired everybody is, they would love the fighting to stop, at the same time they don’t want the revolution to die. If it did the Regime would literally slaughter millions of people in revenge and it would make life even harder for ordinary people than before the revolution.
Another result, if Assad were to win, is that Iran would basically be in control of Syria and Assad and his government would be nothing but a figurehead, the real ruling of the country coming from Tehran. Also Tehran would move millions of Shia Muslims into Syria to live there and this would seriously change the Sunni-Shia balance of power in the middle east and also pose a serious threat to Israel.
So what will happen? My friend told me that they know that this war will never be won with weapons by either side. There will have to be some sort of political solution. Next year is the Presidential election in Syria, who knows what deals are being brokered behind the scenes between the USA and Russia, maybe something that will have Assad step down along with one or two others from the regime. We will have to wait and see. But as I have said in the past, the USA doesn’t want this war to come to an end yet as it is an effective way of making Iran and by proxy Hezbollah tie up a lot of resources in this conflict and to slowly be weakened.
On the other hand we also need to watch Egypt, it is very unstable at the moment. There is deep dissatisfaction with the government there and how they are getting ever closer to Iran. If there is another revolution there, and it could well happen soon, there could be the possibility of certain factions in the Egyptian military going to the aid of the Syrian Sunni rebels if President Morsi of Egypt were overthrown. Again, something to watch.