Liz Sly for the Washington Post: Assad more vulnerable than ever

DAMASCUS – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces the biggest challenge to his hold on power since Syrians first protested his regime nine years ago, wrote Liz Sly in the Washington Post on Monday.

Internal conflicts, the collapse of the Syrian economy, and rising tensions with its Russian ally reveal the current weakness of the Syrian regime.

The pressure of the opposition militants in Idlib no longer poses any real threat to the regime and there are no serious contenders for Assad’s position as Head of State, writes Sly. But cracks are emerging among Syrian regime loyalists who have stood by Assad throughout his campaign to crush the opposition and Russian media have begun to make harsh criticisms of his rule.

“More importantly,” says Sly, “the deterioration of Syrian economy will push Syrians into poverty on an unprecedented scale, neither Russia nor Iran is in a position to pump the billions of dollars Syria needs for reconstruction, but Assad continues to reject political solution that could open the door to Western and Arabian Gulf funds.”

Even as a third of the country remains outside Assad’s control, signs of a new insurgency in the southern province of Daraa speak of the possibility of a new insurgency in areas the Syrian government has, superficially it appears, regained control of.

“Assad may be more vulnerable now than at any time in the last nine years of the war,” said Lina al-Khatib, head of the Middle East Program at the Royal British Institute of International Relations, in an interview with Sly. “Assad has no International legitimacy, he doesn’t have the military power he had before the conflict, his toolbox is empty, and he’s actually more vulnerable than ever.”