By: Lander Michel
LLM in International Law / Leiden Universiteit
Two recent facts stand out which give rise to the possibility that the Assad regime, which has successfully held onto power despite the various factions aligned against it, is reaching, or has reached, the breaking point; this may, however, be counterbalanced by outside State and non-State actors.
The first fact is the declaration, by President Assad, that he would issue a pardon to anyone who had evaded military service, on the condition that they enroll or return to the armed forces. This implies that the government is in very short supply of manpower.
The second fact is that Vladimir Putin recently stated that he is supporting Syria both militarily and with logistics (images and video have appeared on the Telegraph and Syria State television which seems to show Russian troops and advanced combat systems in Syria) while at the same time Russia is rapidly constructing what appears to be an airbase in Latakia.
These two facts demonstrate that the Assad regime is now desperate for support from its allies who have no doubt responded to this appeal for aid. A fully functional airbase in Latakia with Russian aviation would greatly bolster the Assad regime with advanced air support as well as improving morale. In addition if Russian troops or “volunteers” are deployed in significant numbers to hold onto certain key strategic areas then that may well provide the Assad regime the possibility to not lose additional territory and consolidate, or even expand, the territory it currently controls.
The lifting of sanctions on Iran by the International Community and, especially, the United States, will usher a new period of economic growth in Iran and, will also allow free and increase the resources available to bolster the Assad regime.
Although several nations are said to support various groups opposing the Assad regime (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan) it is unlikely that Iran will be able to match them in terms of economic clout however, it will be able to send more advisors, equipment and basic goods (which the people desperately require) without over straining its resources as well as recruiting more fighters from other countries Iraq, for instance or increasing the involvement of Hezbollah.
Should Russia and Iran increase their involvement to support the Assad regime then, in the view of this author, and taking into account the significant air campaign against ISIL and the still limited coordination between other factions fighting the regime, it is possible the Assad regime continue to hold onto power but this situation will by no means be indefinite given the extensive destruction and loss of support Assad is facing which will mean that in the mid-term he will be forced to leave from Syria and seek refuge in either Iran or Russian or some other allied third-nation.
Israel and the United States, along with the EU will, unintentionally, benefit from a continued Assad regime in power supported by Iran and Russia. As regards Iran this stems from the fact that Iran and, especially, Hezbollah, will be overextended (Iran has a significant presence in both Iraq and Syria) and thus it will represent less of a threat to Israel which will however be very weary of instability at its border this without disregarding that Hamas and other groups are now being supported by Gulf States rather than Iran. There will also be an unexpected benefit and that is a market for US and EU goods as well as second-hand and new military hardware which is what Iran will most likely invest significantly in (it will, no doubt, require technological transfer to improve its current weapons programs).
The EU and the US will benefit from greater involvement of Russia in Syria as the cost in both manpower and equipment will curtail its ability to deploy resources and personnel to other areas.
Should sanctions against Iran not be lifted in the near to short term then it is unlikely that the Assad regime last another year this despite Russian involvement which, in the view of this author, will not be able to match the resources deployed by State and non-State actors opposing the Assad regime as Syria is not considered of vital strategic importance.