“Assad faces hard choices as battlefield losses mount,” says the U.S. intelligence analyst. As the pressure increases, some Assad supporters are taking precautions. Russia is reportedly evacuating some personnel from Assad’s ancestral homeland of Latakia, in northwest Syria. Meanwhile, some members of Assad’s circle are said to be seeking visas abroad and otherwise preparing for the possibility that the regime may fall.
A sense of the escalating battle came in a telephone interview Thursday with Capt. Islam Alloush, the spokesman for a group known as the Islamic Army, which is coordinating with the Jaish al-Fatah coalition. Reached at what he said was a location near Aleppo, he explained that the rebels are now moving toward the two key Assad strongholds — Latakia and Damascus. “There is no doubt that the Assad army is weaker,” he said.
But a word of caution about this “endgame” talk. Assad has seemed in trouble before, but he has been rescued by Iran and its proxies. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani seemingly doubled down this week, declaring that he stood with Assad’s government “until the end of the road.” This suggests that Tehran recognizes the new pressure but doesn’t intend to buckle. Sources say additional Iranian proxy forces have recently entered Syria to help bolster the lines.