Expert: Despite Setbacks for Assad, Iran Still Keeping Syrian Regime in Power

Despite recent reports of battlefield reversals suffered by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the embattled dictator is still relatively secure, Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center, wrote in an analysis published Friday in The Jerusalem Post. Spyer argued that two factors—Assad’s ability to consolidate his rule over critical areas, and Iran’s ongoing support—mitigate Assad’s recent setbacks.

This is the list of rebel successes to date; it is certainly considerable. Just a few months ago, many analysts were pronouncing the side of the rebels to be in its death throes. Their inability to unite, or to stem the influence of Sunni jihadists and corrupt warlords in their ranks, seemed to presage their failure. …

So what has changed? The rebels have gone through a kind of process of natural selection in which larger units have devoured smaller ones, leading to greater cohesion. The rapprochement of Saudi Arabia with Turkey appears to have enabled more coherent organization, support and supply to the rebels in the north.

In addition, two top officials of the Assad regime defected.

Despite these setbacks, Spyer argued, “it would be premature to pronounce the regime’s imminent demise.”

The Assad regime’s biggest liability is its lack of manpower, but this has been compensated for in two ways. First, Assad’s forces are not drawn exclusively from Syria.

Firstly, unlike the rebellion, the regime possesses strong and committed allies. Most importantly, Iran has been willing to mobilize its regional proxies and its own assets in order to offset Assad’s shortage of manpower. Hence, the prominent place of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters on the Syrian battlefield – along with Iraqi Shi’ite militiamen, local Alawite irregulars and Shi’ite volunteers from as far afield as Afghanistan.

While this means that Assad is not primarily defended by his own countrymen, “given the greater determination and cohesion the Iranians have shown throughout the region,” having Iranian proxies may actually strengthen Assad.

Additionally, Assad has retreated to only the most strategic locations in Syria so that he can maintain his hold on power. As long as Assad holds Damascus, the coastal areas, and the Homs and Hama provinces, he will remains secure. As long the regime holds a contiguous area from Iraq in the east extending to the coast in the west, allowing transfer of Iranian-backed personnel and materiel, Assad should be able to maintain his rule.

Spyer also warned that a nuclear deal that would free up more Iranian money would allow Iran to boost its support of Assad.

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