The Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad has nearly collapsed twice under pressure from the armed insurrection, in late 2012 and early 2015. On both occasions, Assad was rescued by outside powers, first Iran and then a joint Iranian-Russian operation. It has been a recurring illusion that there is or will be, a strategic split between Russia and Iran. This prospect has continued to tantalise the US and others, and occasional Moscow-Tehran disagreements are presented as evidence that dynamics are shifting this way. Another round of such speculation is currently underway.
The Assad regime has in fundamental ways broken down, with militias and warlords deputised as “the state” in various zones. These rapacious actors compete with one another. Sometimes they even clash, as recently happened with the Fourth Division, led by the dictator’s brother, Maher al Assad, and the Tiger Forces, led by Suhayl al Hassan.
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