2. The Syrian military is not close to a breaking point. Active personnel in the Syrian military are estimated at 295,000 soldiers, with an additional 314,000 troops in the reserves. Although exact figures are impossible to come by, some back-of-the-envelope calculations make it obvious that the bulk of this force has not defected to the rebels.
Qassim Saadeddine, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander in Homs, told me recently that military defectors make up an estimated 30 percent of the rank and file of the armed insurgency, whose number is estimated between 50,000 to 100,000 men. This means the attrition rate in the Syrian army is at best around 5 to 10 percent -- not enough to seriously erode its fighting capacities. Moreover, when given the option, many military defectors are returning home rather than joining the FSA ranks.
Moreover, Assad's losses in military personnel have been made up for by the increase in the ranks of the paramilitary shabiha. These mainly Alawite fighters are increasingly becoming a skilled fighting force thanks to training by Hezbollah operatives. Loyalty to the regime also remains strong among non-Alawite soldiers. The insurgents have also acted in such a way to discourage defections: A recent YouTube video showing rebels executing a group of unarmed Syrian soldiers will only convince other soldiers to stick with the regime.
3. Syria's Alawite community remains hostile to the uprising. Political dissent among Alawites, the religious minority to which Assad belongs, has so far been extremely limited -- despite a few military and civilian defectors.
There have been some signs of discontent inside the Alawite community, mainly due to the heavy casualties in the ranks of the Alawite-majority regime forces. On Sept. 29, there was a shootout in the town of Qardaha, the Assads' ancestral home, between two of Assad's relatives. While the fight is believed to concern the smuggling business in cigarettes, weapons, and other contraband controlled by Assad's extended family, it may also have had political undertones.
The Assads have been swift in dealing with any sign of Alawite dissent, as it undermines the regime narrative of a Sunni Islamist uprising targeting the Alawite community. Following the Qardaha shootout, for instance, they quickly brokered a reconciliation between the feuding families. Alawite opposition activists are hunted down, jailed, and beaten. When all else fails, they are shunned by their families and neighbors.
Any hope for regime implosion rests on Alawites' delinking their physical survival from Assad's political survival. There are no signs that this process has even started. The opposition -- especially the exiled leadership -- has utterly failed in reaching out to the Alawite community. No opposition figure has yet made a convincing case to the Alawites that their future in a post-Assad Syria will be safe from revenge killings, that they will enjoy equal rights as their Sunni brethren, that their economic interests will be safeguarded, and that they will not be treated with suspicion for years to come. Even worse, there is no serious thinking going on inside the opposition of how to develop such a narrative.