The Syrian situation is worsening by the day. Now the Arab League has pulled back its monitors in recognition of their failure to ease the violence. Foreign Secretary William Hague has said he is ‘deeply concerned,’ while the Gulf states are pushing for the whole mater to be referred to the UN Security Council.
But the chances of a ceasefire and the start of a transition are low. The Russian government is growing tired of Bashar al-Assad but does not want to condone any kind of intervention, which they think is likely if the matter is referred to the UN Security Council. Russia still regrets backing the Libya resolution, believing they were hoodwinked by the West into allowing a military intervention against Muammar Gaddafi. Besides, given his situation, Vladimir Putin probably isn't too keen on the idea of international backing for popular protests against authoritarian leaders elsewhere.
In addition, Syria also still has friends in Iraq and Iran, where the governments are supporting the Allawite regime both materially and financially. This will get harder in future, as Iraq faces its own problems and Iran suffers from the effect of new sanctions, but for now Syria's Shia neighbours can still prop up President Assad. Turkey, meanwhile, wants the regime to change but has very little leverage. Perhaps as a sign of their failure to push a transitional plan onto the Syrian government, a senior Turkish diplomat I spoke to was convinced that an intervention would happen but was adamant that Turkey would not lead it. Since Britain, the US and France are not about to do so it is hard to see who will fly the planes.
Yet while the means to push Assad do not exist now, the Syrian regime's days are numbered. The economy is in freefall, the state has collapsed and has been replaced by a thugocracy, and the rebels show no signs of giving up. Quite the opposite: despite being divided amongst themselves, the Syrian opposition is becoming increasingly militarised and emboldened. Ten years from now, an Assad will not rule Syria. Nor, probably, will an Allawite. But the road between now and 2022 will be an uncertain and blood-splattered one.