Last Wednesday, on Sept. 11, Syrian President Bashar Assad celebrated his 48th birthday. Anyone who had assumed throughout the past three years that Assad's end was near and that the fall of his regime was just a matter of time, has been proven wrong. Assad, it seems, is not going anywhere.
The announcement that the United States and Russia had reached a deal that would see Syria disarmed of its chemical weapons, which essentially spelled the suspension of any U.S. plan to strike Syria, has effectively given Assad a significant advantage over his domestic rivals.
One can say that Saturday, when the U.S.-Russian deal was reached, was the day that the countdown towards Assad's victory over the rebels seeking to topple his regime had begun.
Assad does not need to use his chemical arsenal to crush his rivals, nor does he need it to deter Israel. That is probably why his Russian patrons had agreed -- with his consent and approval -- to surrender Damascus' doomsday weapons, thus affording him immunity from the missiles the Americans had trained on him and that if fired, could have brought the Assad regime to its end.
The meaning of this deal is clear: After two years of soul-searching, Washington has decided that it wants to keep Assad in power. Much like Israel, the U.S. is trying to disguise its decision with tough rhetoric over the Syrian regime's crimes against its own people; and much like Israel, the U.S. wants to clip Assad's claws, so that while he will be able to maintain his grip on power and fight al-Qaida's operatives in Syria, he will be left weakened, unable to pose a real threat to them and their allies.
The path to victory is open to Assad now, but it is still a long one. He must first squash the "swarms of rebels." The deal also hinges on Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter [which authorizes the Security Council to order punitive action against countries that threaten international peace and security], which makes it easier for U.S. President Barack Obama to mount a strike against Syria should he decide to do so in the future.
But Assad has already proven that he can weather the storm. With a little more patience and restraint, victory will be his.