The loyalty of the Syrian Alawis, the cohesion of vital combat units, and — perhaps most importantly — the active and very extensive aid from Russia, Iran, and Hizballah have enabled the Assad regime to stay in existence. The decision of the U.S. and the west to refrain from serious involvement and support for the rebellion is no less responsible for the regime’s survival.
Yet at the same time, the regime clearly has no realistic hope of reconquering the areas it has ceded, which amount to about half of the entirety of the territory of the country. And the evidence suggests that Iran and Hizballah’s prominence in the fight against the rebels has reached such a level that to refer to Assad’s side as the sovereign government of Syria may be outdated.
It may be more accurate to now see the Assad regime as in a process of transforming into merely the best-armed and best-supported militia in a war (or series of wars) being fought over the ruins of Syria. With much of its infrastructure in ruins, and around 70,000 of its people killed, Syria is today a failed state, a geographical rather than a political designation.
The central dividing line of this conflict remains between the mainly rural Sunni Arab rebellion supported by Sunni regional powers such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, and the mainly non-Sunni (Alawi, with Shia and Christian support) element gathered around the civil and military infrastructure that once ruled Syria, now supported and maintained by Iran, Russia and their allies and proxies.
There is no reason to believe that this war is anywhere close to conclusion.