We have been in this situation so many times before -- the reports about the crucial last battle in Syria -- this time, the battle for Aleppo. Time to take a long breath, calm down and remember how many times we were told that this is it. I know about that, as I, too, declared prematurely the death of the Assad regime. So, no knowledge if Mark Twain is the favorite American writer of Bashar Assad (I doubt it... Twain was pro-Jewish...), but Assad proves the wisdom of one of Twain's trademark lines about death.
That said, the REAL question is, what does it mean to rule Syria these days? What is Syria? How can one possibly measure victory in this protracted civil war, whose end is not really in sight. Bashar Assad inherited from his father a united country, held in an iron fist, seemingly a stable, though brutal regime, but then, even a word like brutal should have been seen in the context of Syria's politics, always dominated by sectarianism. There was one Syria, but surely not one Syrian people. The self-styled pan-Arab Ba'th Party was no more than the mouthpiece of Alawism and Assadism. There was though one functioning state. No more. Syria is not a functioning state, her nominal ruler is hardly seen in public, and in most cases, the video evidence provided of his appearances happens to be faked. He did learn some techniques from his former Soviet and current Russian friends. He sends HIS sectarian army to indiscriminately kill civilians, though not his own Alawite co-religionists, Druze, Christians and Ismailis who happen to be his sectarian allies. That fate is reserved only to Sunni Muslims, who happen to be the majority in Syria. The country is ruined economically, pushed back decades in terms of infrastructure, and its only export is desperate people. Almost all are Sunnis. According to pro-Assad sources, he controlled 85 percent of the populated territory of Syria. Wrong, as these people who claim it lost track of reality. Kurdish lands in the Northeast, Druze in the South and many other Sunni-dominated territories are not under his control. Syria is divided between various ethnic /religious enclaves, and what happens these days just shows it.
The coalition of Kurdish factions in the Northeast, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, a somewhat ironic name, is defeating ISIS in the strategic town of Manjib, important because it leads to Al-Raqqah, the so-called capital of ISIS and a key place on the road to Turkey. Does anyone in their right mind think that the Kurds spill their blood there in order to hand over the territory to Assad? Well, this is too delusional to think it, though a nice fantasy. The battle of the Kurds coincides also with the battle in Aleppo.
For over four years, the largest city in Syria, the traditional commercial center, the home of Sunnis, Christians, Kurds and Druze (also Jews in the past, until they were ethnically cleansed following the Arab-Israeli war of 1948) has been the arena of tremendous fight. The Assad regime imposed a siege which may or may not have just broken by rebel groups. Caution dictates, that we do not pass final judgement on the claims of the rebels, that they achieved a great victory, but a point of significance can still be made. Even if Assad still maintains a partial siege, it is clear, that he and his regime lack the ability to just take Aleppo over and pacify it for long, or else, we are going to see a genocidal campaign there against the Sunnis. The military problem which the regime has had for years, is the depleted ranks of the army, simply because it is left with mostly the non-Sunni soldiers. Assad can therefore take over or control an area for a while, but in face of hostile population, it does not work for too long. In order to overcome this problem, the regime called upon Russia, Iran Iraqi Shi'ite militias and Hezbollah to come to its help. These are foreign occupation forces, and their presence will not helpful in the long run. The option of forced depletion of the Sunni population is the one which will prove most enticing to the regime.
Put in sum, what a victory does really mean under these circumstances? A ''real'' victory for Assad is possible only if the Sunni population of Syria will be halved, depleted due to forced emigration and violent ethnic cleansing of millions. Europe, get ready!