Assad could hang on till 2014

The Guardian: Bashar al-Assad is likely to stay in power until 2014, according to Syrian watcher Joshua Landis, director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Many pundits predict that the Assad regime is nearing collapse and it is difficult to find any who think Assad will survive the year as president. But Landis, author of the widely read blog Syria Comment, bucks the trend.

Asked to clarify remarks he made on Twitter earlier today about Assad’s prospects, Landis replied: “Who is going to defeat him?”

He told the Guardian that rebels remained divided, underfunded and poorly equipped. He said:

Ethnic and sectarian divisions make victory difficult. Poverty hurts the regime, but also it hurts rebels, who are scavenging and beginning to cannibalise each other.

The Syrian army, by contrast, remains cohesive, fully armed and with a clear command-and-control structure, Landis pointed out. It has also changed tactics to focus on protecting Damascus and the survival of the regime, Landis claimed.

It has learned it cannot control everything and has fallen back. The south and Damascus is much more difficult terrain for rebels than the north and Aleppo.

Aleppo has been harder to defend because of its proximity to Turkey, which offers rebels protection and short lines of retreat. “In the south [neighbouring countries] Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Jordan are all hostile to rebels and do not allow them refuge, comfort and resupply,” Landis said.

Landis also pointed out that the international community remains divided over how to tackle the crisis. The US is concerned about supporting al-Qaida-linked groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, which is leading the fight against the Syrian government in many areas and which the US has proscribed as a terrorist organisation.

“The US has few interests in Syria and every incentive to stay out,” Landis said.

And the main regional opponents of the Assad government – Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – lack a co-ordinated approach and have not always worked in concert.

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