Recent visitors say the 47-year-old president has taken over day-to-day leadership. They speak of a self-confident, combative president convinced he will ultimately win the conflict through military means.

“He is no longer a president who depends on his team and directs through his aides. This is a fundamental change in Assad’s thinking,” said a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician with close ties to Assad. “Now he is involved in directing the battle.”

The endgame may have changed too. “Nobody is now talking about the control of the regime over all of Syria, they talk about the ability of the regime to continue.”…

“The fighting nerve is steady. The Iranians and the Russians may have helped them. Their ability to manage daily and control the situation has improved.”