Some Western commentators have concocted sanguine scenarios whereby either Iran or Russia will lose its resolve to continue expending blood and treasure propping up Bashar al-Assad’s rule, or will be motivated to reach some sort of compromise agreement regarding the country’s future in the interest of “stability.” Frederic Hof finds such scenarios highly unlikely:
Might ongoing instability in Iran persuade the Ayatollah Khamenei to cut losses in Syria? Probably not. If he decides to toss a bone to Iran’s public, it is not likely to be Syria. The jewel in the crown of Iranian regional policy under current management is Lebanon’s Hizballah, for which Syria is vital. Hizballah’s reliance on Syria for strategic depth and for a logistical link to its Iranian home base will not decrease. . . . [Furthermore], those often described as the Islamic Republic’s “moderates,” “pragmatists,” and even “reformers” have never downplayed the importance of Hizballah to the health and well-being of the operation for which they front.
Other observers profess to see hope in the prospect of Russia nudging Assad toward the exit. [But] there is scant evidence that [Vladimir Putin] has either the power or the will to compel any such thing.
The [Assad] regime itself evaluates power-sharing in a manner identical to any criminal enterprise: as a death warrant. Although Russian airpower has been important in stabilizing the regime militarily, it is Iran that is the key to Assad’s political survival. And if the malfeasance, corruption, and violence of the ruling entourage drive millions more Syrians in the direction of Turkey and Western Europe, so much the better from the Kremlin’s point of view. Indeed, the very prospect of mass migration will fuel Russian attempts to blackmail Europe into offering tribute to its Syrian client. . . .
If hope is to have any realistic role to play in Syria in 2018, the West at long last will have to see the Assad regime as the security threat it has always been. No, this is not a call for violent regime change. The starting point for Western self-defense in Syria is civilian protection. The Obama administration threw away [opportunities to protect civilians] quite gratuitously to appease Iran. A West [committed to] defending itself will, at the very least, get serious about determining ways and means to frustrate, complicate, punish, and block the collective-punishment actions of a Syrian regime for which no crime is so vile as to be avoided.