The Ongoing Deadlock in Syria
The balance between the conflicting parties in the ongoing civil war in Syria might vary from time to time.
A party prevailing over the other might create an expectation that the civil war could end. Earlier, it was discussed if this was the end of the Bashar al-Assad regime after an operation carried out by opposition forces against senior officials of the regime seized control of the majority of Aleppo, as well as Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, and also after conflicts intensified in Damascus. It was later asserted that the regime forces had had major gains in the field in recent months and that the opposition might be completely crushed this time. This was mainly because of the fact that Assad's forces took control of the strategic town of Qusayr from the opposition, were headed for Aleppo and had gained some ground over opposition forces in Homs. However, just as the opposition forces were not strong enough to topple the regime despite their previous gains, the regime is currently not able to completely suppress the opposition. The prediction that the civil war will not end without a critical input in the current equation still stands. In Syria, where the civil war has been ongoing for almost two-and-a-half years and will probably not end for a long time, the parties periodically gain the upper hand and the balances might change in favor of one party. However, there will not be strategic changes at a level that will end the civil war. Such a change could take place only if there was a critical increase or decrease in terms of the military support provided by foreign actors.
The underlying reason for the gains of the regime forces in recent months is the increase in foreign support. It was alleged from the beginning of the civil war that Hezbollah had sent troops to Syria in order to support the Assad regime. However, in the recent Qusair conflict, Hezbollah explicitly fought alongside the Assad regime against opposition forces with a large participation. In addition, the Assad regime formed a new militia force of 50,000 soldiers with the support of Iran and Hezbollah. This militia force, composed of people loyal to the regime, is more effective in fighting on the ground than the regime's army. As a result of those factors, the balance has changed in favor of the regime in recent months.
Nevertheless, the recent development led to a reaction among the opposition and the actors that could not let the war turn out to the advantage of Syria-Iran and Hezbollah stepped in and tried to restore the balance. Saudi Arabia stated that the world should not let Iran and Hezbollah bolster Syrian President Assad and that it would no longer keep quiet over Tehran's interference in the crisis and called for more military aid for the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, the US administration made statements that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against the opposition. The use of chemical weapons, which had already been declared as a red line by the US, was probably brought forward as a legitimate justification for the heavy arms provided to the opposition. Right after those statements, Free Syrian Army (FSA) Chief of Staff Salim Idris reportedly stated that they had received new weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, and distributed those weapons to its troops.
Another reason for the escalation of military support provided by forces supporting each party is the decision to seek a political solution to the Syrian issue within the framework of an agreement between the US and Russia to run the Geneva process. The parties want to be stronger at the negotiating table and to strengthen their hand in negotiations if the problem is going to be solved in this manner. This situation forces the parties to gain ground in the field. However, this approach conflicts with the logic of a political process. Seeking a political solution on the one hand and maintaining a military struggle on the other conflicts with the logic of the process. A cease-fire between the parties is a must in such a period. For this very reason, the Geneva II conference was postponed despite being planned to be held in June. The process might be reinitiated as a result of arm wrestling between the parties in Syria after a certain point. The balances have turned out to be to the advantage of the Assad regime, both due to the achievements of the regime on the ground and also due to the change of government in Egypt. Although the US and Russia still want to maintain the Geneva process, it is not possible to expect the opponents to come to the table during such a period.