Syria: towards the endgame

Syria’s civil war, locked over the past year into a dynamic stalemate whereby Bashar al-Assad’s minority regime cannot regain control of the country, but the Sunni-majority-dominated rebels seem not to have the military wherewithal to dislodge it, has started to accelerate as 2012 draws to an end. Attempts by Damascus to spread the conflict into neighbouring countries (Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan) and set fire to the Levant have caused justifiable alarm, but won no strategic advantage for the regime; if anything, they have made external intervention more likely. While intervention at any level would be risky, the major risk now in not providing selected rebel units with meaningful support is that this would enhance the influence of jihadi extremists in Syria far beyond what its plural and multi-confessional society would normally tolerate.