On Thursday, March 6, experts told the Senate foreign relations committee that "the likeliest scenario is that which the US intelligence community now predicts, which is the war continuing for another decade or more." The death toll, now at 140,000, continues to climb. Chemical weapons have not been removed. Progress is increasingly unlikely as chaos continues to envelop the unstable country. Just this Tuesday, March 4, Assad won a major victory against the rebel groups, taking control of their most strategic military stronghold. As Assad rebuilds his oppressive regime and kills off rebel forces, the US can do virtually nothing to stop him.
Yabroud was the last stronghold held by Sunni Muslim rebel forces. Since November, Assad's forces, aided by Shiites in Lebanon, have besieged the city. Meanwhile, the city's Sunni population wholeheartedly supports the rebel cause. Security officials believe that Lebanese Sunnis have been offering logistical support to the rebels in Yabroud since the beginning of the siege. This Tuesday, March 4th, Assad forces, aided by Hezbollah fighters and local paramilitary groups, broke through the rebel stronghold, seizing control of the town and forcing the Syrian rebels to retreat. Syrian helicopters dropped barrel bombs and laid waste to the once powerful city.
Not only is this military loss devastating to the weak rebels, but it has destroyed their morale. Even more importantly, it has cut off crucial supply lines to Lebanon and weakened the rebels organizational structure and ability to engage in coordinated operations. Already, 13,000 refugees have fled Yabroud to Arsal, a city in Northeastern Lebanon, dominated by Sunnis, that has become a crucial base for the rebels. Arsal, which has been primarily used to keep weapons and munitions and treat wounded rebel forces, is surrounded by Shiite cities and is vulnerable to attack, security officials say.
What's really frightening, however, isn't Assad's success against the rebels; it is his ability to deceive the West and avoid giving up his chemical weapons to the international community. For six months now, Syria has delayed releasing its chemical weapons. Under the agreement Syria signed with the United States and our allies, Syria was to hand over its deadliest chemical weapons by January 1. By February 6, the rest of the weapons were supposed to be removed. Neither deadline was met. Now, one month later, Syria has only turned over ⅓ of its chemical stockpile. Its delay tactics have not resulted in sanctions or reprimands. In fact, Syria's failure to abide by international law is seemingly so insignificant to the West, that it hasn't even received significant press coverage.
This is worrisome for two reasons. First, an Assad with chemical weapons is dangerous. Assad has shown his brutality and willingness to commit human rights atrocities. Second, it demonstrates a lack of willingness by the Assad regime to cooperate with the international community in any way.
The situation in Syria will only get worse. Foreign policy experts in Washington warned on Thursday that the war in Syria will "grind on." Propped up by Vladimir Putin and Iran, President Bashar al-Assad's forces are increasingly formidable. Joined by jihadist groups from Lebanon and abroad, they are flooding the battlefield and tearing the country apart.
"It's now clear that Assad's fall is not the inevitability that many analysts believed a year ago," said analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. He explained to the Senate foreign relations committee that Assad's position has been reinforced by munitions and money from Iran and Russia as well as by Assad's decision not to fight against militant groups, whose presence has deterred Western support for the rebel forces.