With the Syrian crisis entering its final stage, what follows are the main implications.
To begin with, Assad’s regime has long since lost its legitimacy to rule, and at most can survive for a further period through the growing use of firepower that is meant to inflict large-scale casualties among the rebels and the civilian population that supports them.
The rebels’ takeover of large parts of Aleppo will likely precipitate a final collapse of the army’s rule in the area. This will add momentum to similar processes in northern Syria, further enabling the mobilization and organization of forces for the decisive battle in Damascus – if the campaign being waged at present does not achieve a breakthrough. ...
It is unlikely under the prevailing circumstances that Assad’s regime believes the use of chemical weapons can restore the previous situation in Syria, even if very heavy losses are inflicted on the civilian population. It appears probable that, should Damascus soon fall into rebel hands, the regime will instead seek to transfer most of the surviving loyal forces and strategic (including chemical) weaponry to the area of the Alawite enclave in the west of the country. These weapons would then serve as a deterrent to acts of revenge and a political card for ensuring the Alawite community’s status in a future Syrian order.
The Syrian National Coalition has indeed won international recognition and projects a moderate image for the Syrian opposition. The reality, however, is much more complex. The rebel forces regard the new leadership of the opposition as having been imposed on them, and are prepared at most to accept it as a temporary actor that can mobilize the international support needed to complete the endeavor of toppling the regime.
The Dominant Forces in Syria
In actuality, the dominant forces in Syria are the military frameworks that have waged the campaign against the regime since the revolution erupted in March 2011. These military frameworks, which enjoy great popular support, will likely demand their part in the new government and make their imprint on the shaping of the new Syria.
An analysis of the fighting forces’ ideological underpinnings shows that the overwhelming majority, if not all, espouse an Islamist, jihadist, Salafist outlook at different degrees of fervor. Their common denominator is a desire to establish a new Syria that is ruled by the Sunni Muslim majority and defines itself first and foremost as an Islamic state.
The Jahbat al-Nusra organization, which is identified with the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, is considered one of the most powerful forces among the rebels and enjoys extensive popular sympathy both because of its battlefield achievements and the aid it provides to the population. A few days after the United States decided to add it to the list of terrorist organizations, there were mass demonstrations of support for the organization in Syria in the name of all the fighting forces, under the banner: “There Is No Terror in Syria But Assad’s Terror.” Despite its international connections, even the Syrian National Coalition rejected the U.S. decision to classify Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization. This full backing for a branch of al-Qaeda against the U.S. and the West likely indicates the future direction of the Syrian revolution, which appears ready to adopt Islamism as the main basis of the government that will replace the Assad regime.
Under the surface in Syria, two major Islamic forces are active: the Muslim Brotherhood via Turkey, and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for the immediate creation of an Islamic caliphate. Officially, the Muslim Brotherhood has no fighting forces acting under its name. According to testimonies, however, some of the semi-military frameworks set up over the past two years are identified with the movement, and it controls numerous sources of financial aid from the Gulf states and thereby wields influence among the rebel forces. The Brotherhood is likely to take a higher profile after the revolution achieves its ends, and to strive, with the help of Turkey and Egypt, to unite all the Islamic factions under its leadership.
The overriding goal of the new regime, with Turkey’s support, will be to maintain Syria’s geographic coherence and prevent its division on an ethnic/religious (Sunni, Alawite, Kurdish, and Druze) basis. So far the rebel forces, except for specific acts of vengeance, have avoided massacres of the Alawite population. They want to leave an escape hatch for Alawite officers and soldiers who will encourage others to desert, thereby hastening the army’s collapse. Such restraint will not necessarily remain after the regime collapses, with not a few voices among the rebels already calling for retribution. One possible solution for the new situation is an eventual Syrian federation that would extend limited autonomous rights to the minority groups.
... The rebel forces, for their part, are hostile to Israel and reiterate calls to extend the jihad from Damascus to the liberation of Jerusalem. At present all their resources are directed at overthrowing the Assad regime. After that is accomplished, a potential military-terrorist threat to Israel will likely emerge in the transition period, which will be marked by governmental instability and a lack of central control over at least some of the fighting forces. The jihadist forces in Syria have taken over the Syrian military’s stocks of weapons, like in the Libyan case after the fall of Gaddafi. This could pose a serious security challenge to Western interests in the future.(Underline added).