The Economist reports: For all the talk of an early endgame being played out in Syria in the aftermath of the bombing that killed four of Bashar Assad’s key security enforcers, Western governments and their intelligence services are not betting on the regime’s imminent collapse. The battle under way for Syria’s second city, Aleppo, may end with Mr Assad’s forces holding the centre and other key points while the rebels are forced back to the fringes, where they may nibble away for months. If Aleppo falls, the regime will probably go down fast. But that may not happen soon.
Mr Assad’s own fate—either death or flight—may, however, be sealed. The destruction he has wrought on his people has surely disqualified him from any settlement. As things stand, Western intelligence services think he is more likely to be ousted by a palace coup than by the kind of military collapse that engulfed Muammar Qaddafi. Indeed, the idea of replacing Mr Assad with somebody from within the regime is circulating in intelligence circles, and may even hold some attraction for the Russians, hitherto Mr Assad’s staunchest foreign backers. The UN and the Arab League seem, for the moment, to be making little or no diplomatic running.
Neither the Syrian armed forces nor the rebels seem able to inflict a decisive defeat on the other. Both are capable of taking ground but not holding it. The rebels have the advantage outside the main population centres and may now control more than half the area where most Syrians live, in villages and small towns, mainly in the western third of the country. But they have been pushed back by Mr Assad’s forces whenever they try to seize one of the country’s main cities, such as Homs, Hama and parts of Damascus. The rebels have become wilier at retreating tactically (as they have done from Damascus) rather than fighting to a futile death. If Mr Assad’s men reimpose their grip on Aleppo, the rebels are likely to retreat before they are wiped out, for all their current grandiose predictions of imminent victory. [Continue reading…]