Syria’s civil war is at a crucial point following the defection to the rebels of Prime Minister Riad Hijab and new reported attempted defections.

These suggest a growing nervousness in President Bashar Assad’s inner circle. Meanwhile regime forces continue to pound Free Syrian Army rebels in the country’s second city, Aleppo.

A further twist is the rebels’ taking of Iranian hostages, some of whom it says have been killed by shelling: it claims they are Revolutionary Guards. Tehran denies this and claims it will hold the United States responsible for their safety.

This row underlines Syria’s potential to spark more serious regional tensions and even conflict, not least because, contrary to Iran’s claims, the rebels have more important financial backers in the Sunni-dominated Gulf states: Iran’s Arab enemies are deeply involved.

For that reason, as well as to end the suffering of the Syrian people, we must hope that the regime falls sooner rather than later. Yet while he is now surely finished, Assad could yet fight on for some while. His troops have a massive advantage over the rebels in air superiority and heavy weaponry, and for his inner circle, defeat is a grim prospect indeed.

Syria’s nightmare is far from over.

— London Evening Standard, Aug. 7

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