|End Game for al-Assad - for the rest of them|
there will be no end to the killing
Bashir al-Assad and the mostly Alawite Ba'ath leadership has had ongoing support from Russia and Iran. The reasons for this support are complex, but the simple explanation is that Russia needs Syria because it provides them with a proxy state in the Middle East and Iran is supporting the government because, as Alawites, they are Shi'ite Muslims, and the opposition is almost entirely Sunni.
So with the government forces on the run, losing territory to ISIS in the East and Syrian Rebel forces and al-Nusra in the West, it is not surprising that both Russia and Iran would step up their support. Russia is particularly concerned about the rebels westward advance. Idlib fell in March, and Jisr al-Shughur in April, and now the rebels are only ten kilometers from the Mediterranean seacoast, and only 20 kilometers from Syria's primary port, Latakia. Even worse for the Russians, their only naval base on the Med is at Tartus, just another 84 kilometers down the coast road. Meanwhile, Iran needs a friendly Syrian government to retain access to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
So Russia has undertaken a buildup of their own frontline equipment, including tanks, APCs, attack helicopters and modern multi-role fighter jets. There's even some evidence that they've brought in advanced air defense systems, the significance of which we'll get to in a minute. It seems pretty obvious that this is a precursor to the deployment of Russian combat troops in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad and his core leadership group. The justification will be they are fighting ISIS and the other Islamist militants - hmm, that sounds awfully familiar - but make no mistake: They are there because the Syrian army no longer has the combat power to hold on to their remaining territory.
So this will bring Russians, Syrians, Kurds, ISIS/Nusra, Hezbollah, Gulf States and American militaries into close proximity in a combat zone. And why do the Russians need anti-air defenses? ISIS doesn't have any air assets, and neither do the Kurds. The only combat air assets in theater will be Syrian, Russian and American/Allied - and occasionally Israeli. The likelihood of a fatal accident or mis-calculation is very high.
When the Syrian revolution started, the world thought it was just another Arab Spring uprising against an authoritarian dictatorship. What we forgot to notice is how strategic Syria was to a large number of powerful external entities. And no matter what happens - if the Ba'ath leadership can hold on to power and some territory or not, if al - Assad clings to power or steps aside, if the Damascus perimeter holds or if the capital city falls - Syria will remain a war torn failed state for many years to come. The refugees will continue to stream out of the area, the the Iraqi and Syrian borders will be erased and the region will continue its spiral into chaos and desperation. Only now we also have an opportunity for it to explode into a major powers confrontation and an unpredictable and dangerous regional war.