Resilient Tyranny: The Evolution of Assad’s Survival Strategies in Syria

by Navvar Saban

The paper titled “Resilient Tyranny: The Evolution of Assad’s Survival Strategies in Syria” examines the dynamic and multifaceted strategies employed by the Assad regime to maintain its hold on power throughout the Syrian conflict. Since 2011, the Assad regime has adeptly adapted to both internal and external challenges, leveraging a combination of military force, strategic alliances, and political maneuvering to survive in a highly volatile environment.

Key strategies include the consolidation of control over strategic territories, securing loyalty from minority communities, and cultivating robust support from key international allies, particularly Russia and Iran. Domestically, the regime has focused on maintaining security and stability, controlling economically vital regions, and reconsolidating political power through local governance reforms. Economically, the regime has navigated severe international sanctions by fostering deeper ties with allied nations and developing self-reliance initiatives. Externally, the Assad regime has effectively managed its relationships with powerful allies, securing military and economic support essential for its survival. This support has enabled the regime to recapture territories and strengthen its negotiating position in international forums, despite facing persistent insurgencies and foreign military interventions. Additionally, the regime’s ability to engage in international diplomacy and peace talks, often stalling these efforts, has fractured opposition forces and delayed political resolutions that could undermine its authority.

The paper also explores the current security and military challenges faced by the regime, including ongoing insurgencies, foreign military interventions, and internal fragmentation within the military and security forces. Iran’s and allies influence in southern and their strategic objectives in the region are highlighted as significant factors shaping the conflict’s dynamics.


The survival strategies of the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, have evolved significantly since the onset of the Syrian conflict in 2011. This prolonged conflict emerged from the broader Arab Spring movements, which challenged autocratic governments across the Arab world. Initially, the regime faced widespread protests fueled by discontent over economic hardships, political repression, and social inequalities. The Assad regime’s response to these protests was characterized by severe military and security crackdowns, setting the stage for a full-scale civil war.

As the conflict escalated, the Syrian regime’s strategies to maintain power became increasingly reliant on both domestic maneuvering and the cultivation of external alliances. Domestically, the regime focused on consolidating control over strategic urban centers and securing the loyalty of key constituencies, particularly among minority communities like the Alawites, Christians, and Druze. This involved both military actions and negotiations to co-opt local leaders, often leveraging sectarian divisions to maintain a balance of power that favored the regime.

On the international front, the regime’s survival strategy hinged on securing robust support from key allies—notably Russia and Iran. Russian military intervention in 2015 marked a significant turning point, bolstering the regime’s capabilities through air support, advanced weaponry, and strategic military advisement. Iran has played a crucial role as well, providing not only military support through the deployment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and allied Shiite militia groups but also economic assistance. This external support has been vital in enabling the regime to recapture territories and strengthen its negotiating position in international forums. Moreover, the Syrian regime adeptly navigated international diplomatic arenas to mitigate the impact of sanctions and global condemnation. By engaging in various peace talks and negotiation processes, albeit often stalling or undermining these efforts, the regime managed to fracture opposition forces and delay substantive political resolutions that could undermine its authority.

As the conflict has worn on, the regime has also adapted its strategies in response to changing dynamics. This includes partial economic reforms, tactical redeployments of forces, and shifts in rhetoric to appeal to nationalist sentiments and war fatigue among the population. The regime’s ability to adapt and maneuver within these complex and shifting landscapes has been central to its persistence, despite the immense challenges and the toll on the country. These foundational strategies have set the stage for the regime’s current objectives and the ongoing challenges it faces, continuously shaping its approach to governance, military engagements, and international diplomacy.

Analysis of the Regime’s Key Objectives

In the complex landscape of Syrian politics and the ongoing conflict, the Assad regime has meticulously shaped its key objectives to ensure its survival and continued dominance. These objectives reflect both short-term tactics and long-term strategic goals, deeply influenced by the internal socio-political dynamics and external pressures.

  1. Preservation of Regime Security and Stability: The foremost objective of the Assad regime remains the preservation of its own security and stability. This involves maintaining the cohesion and loyalty of the security forces, including the army and intelligence agencies. The regime has continuously worked to ensure that these forces are not only well-equipped but also ideologically aligned with the leadership. By positioning itself as the guardian of national and sectarian security, especially for minority groups such as the Alawites, the regime strives to project itself as an indispensable bulwark against the chaos of insurgency and terrorism.

  2. Control Over Strategic Territories: Controlling key territories is another primary objective of the Assad regime. This goal extends beyond mere military dominance to encompass economic, political, and social control. The focus has been on urban centers and economically vital regions that are crucial for maintaining overall state functionality. This includes cities like Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs, which are not only political and economic hubs but also carry symbolic significance for national identity and state integrity.

  3. Reconsolidation of Political Power: In parallel with military strategies, the Assad regime emphasizes the reconsolidation of political power through various means. One significant approach has been the restructuring of local governance through nominally decentralized institutions that, in practice, reinforce central control. Local elections and administrative reforms have been tactically used to co-opt community leaders and integrate them into the broader framework of regime control, ensuring that any form of governance at the local level remains under the overarching influence of Damascus.

  4. Economic Revitalization Under Sanctions: Facing severe international sanctions, the regime has also prioritized economic revitalization as a key objective. This includes efforts to attract investments from allied countries like Russia and Iran, as well as attempts to reopen trade with neighboring countries and regions. By seeking to stabilize the economy, the regime aims to alleviate the domestic discontent that has been exacerbated by the conflict and economic decline. Initiatives such as reconstruction projects and infrastructure development are often highlighted as part of this objective, aimed at both economic recovery and the projection of normalcy and governmental effectiveness.

  5. International Legitimization and Diplomatic Engagement: Despite facing widespread international condemnation, the Assad regime has not isolated itself on the international front. Instead, it actively seeks to regain legitimacy and reshape its international image. This involves complex diplomatic engagements and participation in international forums, where Syria can assert its sovereignty and push back against what it perceives as foreign interventions. The regime’s involvement in negotiations about refugees, counter-terrorism, and even chemical weapons are all part of this broader objective to normalize its status on the global stage, thereby weakening the opposition’s diplomatic efforts.

These objectives are not just aspirational but are actively pursued through various policies, military strategies, and diplomatic maneuvers. They reflect a regime that, despite facing immense challenges, continues to seek both survival and dominance in a torn country not worrying about the cost of it. As the conflict enters its second decade, the interplay between these objectives and the dynamic geopolitical environment continues to shape the trajectory of the Syrian conflict and the regime’s strategies within it.

Security and Military Challenges

As the Syrian conflict progresses, the regime faces numerous security and military challenges that continue to test its resilience and strategic adaptability. These challenges not only stem from the internal conflicts and insurgencies but are also exacerbated by external interventions and the complexities of international geopolitics.

  1. Insurgency and Rebel Factions: One of the most persistent threats to the Syrian regime’s stability comes from various insurgent groups and rebel factions that control significant portions of the country. Despite the regime’s efforts to reclaim territory, groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib and factions affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria maintain strongholds that challenge the regime’s authority. These groups not only engage in direct military confrontations but also undermine the regime’s control by governing these territories through parallel administrative structures.

  2. Foreign Military Interventions: The involvement of foreign powers in Syria poses another substantial security challenge for the regime. The presence of Russian and Iranian forces has undoubtedly bolstered the regime’s military capabilities; however, it also complicates the security landscape. U.S. military support for the SDF, for instance, has enabled the Kurdish-led group to maintain control over parts of northeastern Syria, including critical oil fields, thereby limiting the regime’s access to vital economic resources. Moreover, the sporadic military strikes by Israel targeting Iranian and Hezbollah assets in Syria further destabilize the region and pose a risk of escalating into broader conflicts.

  3. Fragmentation within the Military and Security Forces: The cohesiveness of the Syrian military and security forces is crucial for the regime’s survival. However, the prolonged conflict has led to fragmentation and weakened morale within these forces. This fragmentation is often driven by sectarian divides, defections, and the inconsistent integration of various pro-regime militias. The reliance on foreign militias, such as those supported by Iran, and the irregular forces like the Local and National Defense Forces (LDF/NDF), have created a patchwork security apparatus that struggles with issues of loyalty and effectiveness.

  4. Economic Constraints and Logistical Challenges: The economic decline has severely impacted the Syrian regime’s ability to sustain its military operations. International sanctions have restricted the flow of funds and military hardware, complicating the regime’s logistics and operational capabilities. This economic strain is evident in the periodic shortages of fuel and basic necessities, which not only affects the civilian population but also limits the operational readiness of the military forces.

  5. Technological and Tactical Adaptation: The dynamic nature of the conflict requires continuous adaptation in terms of tactics and technology. The regime has faced challenges in countering the technologically sophisticated weapons and tactics employed by its adversaries, including drones and advanced missile systems. The adaptation to these challenges has been slow and often reactive rather than proactive, leaving the regime’s forces vulnerable to attacks that have significant strategic and psychological impacts.

  6. Capability to Counter Threats: In response to these challenges, the Syrian regime has leveraged its alliances with Russia and Iran to bolster its military capabilities. Russian airpower, in particular, has been crucial in tipping the balance of many military engagements in favor of the regime. Additionally, the regime has employed a strategy of localized truces and reconciliation agreements to pacify certain areas temporarily. These agreements often involve relocating rebel fighters to Idlib, thereby defusing immediate threats at the cost of bolstering the rebel presence in that region.

Furthermore, the regime has intensified its intelligence and counterinsurgency operations, focusing on infiltrating and disrupting opposition groups. The effectiveness of these measures, however, varies, and the regime often resorts to heavy-handed tactics, such as indiscriminate bombing and sieges that lead to significant civilian casualties and displacement.

These multifaceted security and military challenges illustrate the precarious nature of the regime’s hold on power. The Syrian government’s ability to navigate these obstacles is crucial for its survival, requiring a delicate balance of military strategy, diplomatic maneuvering, and internal consolidation. As these challenges persist, the regime’s responses and adaptations will continue to shape the security landscape of Syria.

Changes in Key Security Figures

Moving forward, it is also crucial to assess recent changes in the leadership within Syria’s security apparatus, which play a pivotal role in the enforcement of the regime’s policies and the stability of the state. These adjustments in key security positions have been strategically implemented to solidify Bashar al-Assad’s control over the security services, which are essential for maintaining regime survival in a highly volatile environment.

Reasons for Changes in Security Leadership

The motivations behind these key changes in the security structure of Syria are multifaceted, involving both internal and external factors. One primary reason is the need to consolidate power and ensure the loyalty of the security forces amidst ongoing political instability and external pressures. By installing trusted allies in critical positions, Assad seeks to fortify his grip on power and prevent potential insurrections or coups, which have historically been a risk for regimes in similar geopolitical contexts.

Another reason for these strategic appointments is the necessity to adapt to the changing dynamics of the Syrian conflict and the broader regional power plays. The Syrian regime needs to align its security strategy to counter not only internal threats from rebel groups but also manage intricate relationships with influential external actors like Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, each of whom has vested interests and operates independently within various parts of Syria.

Impact on Regime Stability and Policies

The recent changes in the security apparatus significantly impact the regime’s stability and its policy implementations. With Major General Kifah Al-Mulhim taking over as the director of the Syrian National Security Bureau, there has been a shift towards a potentially more streamlined approach in intelligence coordination and national security policy. This change is expected to enhance the regime’s capability to monitor and suppress dissent, thereby stabilizing Assad’s rule in the short term. Furthermore, these changes impact Syria’s military strategies and its interactions with ally forces and opposition groups. The appointments often reflect a strategic alignment with key allies, particularly Iran and Russia, ensuring that the security chiefs are compatible with the advisors and military commanders from these countries. This is crucial for the regime to effectively manage its alliances and leverage them to maintain its sovereignty over Syrian territory.

Additionally, replacing older military and security leaders with younger officers can be seen as an attempt to modernize the Syrian military and security services, making them more effective and agile in their operations. This rejuvenation of the security forces might lead to more robust and tactical responses to insurgent threats and operational challenges posed by the fragmented nature of warfare within Syria.

Influence on Internal and External Security Policies

The restructuring of Syria’s security leadership also has profound implications for internal security policies, particularly regarding surveillance, intelligence operations, and crackdowns on opposition elements. New security leaders are likely to implement rigorous measures to prevent any uprising that could threaten the regime’s control. This might include enhanced surveillance, more aggressive intelligence-gathering operations, and stricter enforcement of security measures. Externally, the shake-up in the security hierarchy impacts how Syria engages with other nations and non-state actors within its borders. The new leaders are expected to continue collaborating closely with Iranian military advisors and Hezbollah commanders, aligning more with their tactical approaches and regional security strategies. This alignment is critical in managing the complex interplay of forces in southern Syria, where Iran’s influence is notably significant.

In summary, the recent changes in the Syrian security leadership are aimed at bolstering the regime’s control over military and security operations amidst a complex and shifting conflict landscape. These changes are strategically made to ensure loyalty, enhance operational effectiveness, and align more closely with key allies, thereby stabilizing Assad’s rule and adapting to the geopolitical realities of the region. As the Syrian landscape continues to evolve, the role of these security leaders will be crucial in determining the trajectory of the regime’s survival and its ability to navigate both internal challenges and external pressures.

Iran’s Influence in Southern Syria

Iran’s influence in southern Syria has grown significantly over the past decade, shaping both the battlefield dynamics and the political landscape. This pervasive influence is particularly marked in the strategic southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, adjacent to the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Iran’s deepening foothold in this region manifests through various dimensions: military support, economic investments, and efforts to wield political influence, each of which plays a crucial role in solidifying Tehran’s long-term presence in Syria.

Militias Presence in As-Suwida

Military Influence and Strategic Objectives

Iran’s military entrenchment in southern Syria is primarily driven by strategic objectives, aiming to establish a continuous land corridor extending from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea. This corridor facilitates the movement of military personnel, weaponry, and supplies, bolstering Iran’s capacity to project power across the region and provide sustained support to its ally, the Assad regime, and to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite Quds Force have been instrumental in training and supporting regime military formations and other militias in southern Syria, Such as the 4th Armored Division and other various groups like Liwa Fatemiyoun, composed of Afghan Shia fighters, have played a pivotal role in recapturing and securing territories from rebel forces. The strategic town of al-Bukamal, near the Syria-Iraq border, has become a critical hub for Iranian operations, serving as a logistical and operational base for the IRGC.

Additionally, Iran has leveraged its military presence to establish intelligence and surveillance operations, particularly near the Golan Heights, posing a direct challenge to Israel and heightening regional security tensions. The establishment of missile and drone bases in this area underscores Iran’s intent to exert military pressure on Israel, a key adversary.

Economic Investments and Influence

Beyond military dimensions, Iran’s involvement in southern Syria extends into economic territories. Tehran has capitalized on the economic devastation in Syria by embedding its economic interests through various means. Iranian companies, often linked to the IRGC, have been active in reconstruction efforts, particularly in the energy and infrastructure sectors. These activities not only provide Iran with significant leverage over the Syrian economy but also ensure a dependency of the local economy on Iranian investment and expertise.

In the wake of international sanctions on Syria, Iran has positioned itself as a crucial economic lifeline, supplying oil and other essential commodities. This economic relationship has been formalized through various agreements, including a long-term strategic economic agreement signed between Syria and Iran, which cements Iran’s role in the Syrian reconstruction effort and gives it preferential treatment in various economic ventures.

Political Influence and Cultural Outreach

Politically, Iran has made significant inroads into the local administrative structures in southern Syria. Iranian advisors and officials are often embedded within local councils, influencing decision-making processes and aligning them with Tehran’s interests. This political infiltration is complemented by cultural and religious outreach programs aimed at promoting Shia Islam in a predominantly Sunni region, thereby expanding Iran’s ideological footprint. These efforts include the construction of cultural centers, mosques, and schools, which are often staffed by Iranian clerics.

Moreover, Iran has been involved in brokering local ceasefire agreements between rebel groups and the Syrian regime, showcasing its role as a key power broker in the region. These agreements often result in the expulsion or relocation of Sunni populations and their replacement with Shia families loyal to the regime and Iran, altering the demographic composition to create a favorable environment for Iran’s long-term presence.

Challenges and Countermeasures

Despite these extensive efforts, Iran’s activities in southern Syria have faced resistance from various quarters. Israel, perceiving Iran’s military presence near its border as a direct threat, has conducted numerous airstrikes aimed at Iranian and Hezbollah targets in southern Syria. These military actions signify ongoing efforts to curb Iranian influence and prevent the entrenchment of hostile forces near Israeli territory. Furthermore, local populations have occasionally expressed resentment towards Iran’s religious and cultural impositions, leading to social tensions and sporadic protests. These local dynamics underscore the complex interplay of influence and resistance that characterizes Iran’s role in southern Syria.

In summary, Iran’s influence in southern Syria encompasses a multi-faceted strategy aimed at bolstering its regional power and securing a long-term role in the post-conflict landscape. Through military initiatives, economic investments, and political maneuvers, Iran continues to solidify its position, despite facing significant challenges from international and local actors. As the Syrian conflict continues to evolve, the extent and nature of Iran’s involvement in southern Syria will play a crucial role in shaping the regional power dynamics and the future geopolitical landscape of the Middle and Near East.

Adaptation to Sanctions and Economic Pressures

The Syrian regime, under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, has demonstrated a marked a devilish-made resilience in the face of economic sanctions and pressures. These sanctions, imposed by the United States, the European Union, and other international actors, aim to restrict the regime’s access to financial resources, necessary imports for military operations, and the benefits of international trade. However, the regime’s responses and adaptations to these constraints reveal a complex tapestry of survival strategies that intertwine economic policies, diplomatic maneuvers, and illicit activities.

Strategic Economic Adaptations

One of the primary adaptations by the Syrian regime has been the restructuring of its economic framework to mitigate the impacts of international sanctions. The regime has increasingly relied on a network of loyalists and businessmen who operate both within and outside of Syria. These networks facilitate the movement of goods and funds through unofficial channels, thereby circumventing the financial restrictions imposed by sanctions. For instance, the use of “shadow companies” and maritime transport companies that change their names and flags allows the Syrian regime to continue importing oil and other commodities essential for its military and civilian sectors.

Moreover, the Syrian regime has cultivated deeper economic ties with allies such as Iran and Russia, who provide critical economic support. Iran, for example, has supplied various forms of economic aid, including fuel and credit lines worth billions of dollars, which have been crucial for Syria’s sustenance. The establishment of Iranian-owned businesses within Syria, particularly in sectors like telecommunications and energy, exemplifies a strategic pivot towards economies less influenced by Western sanctions. These relationships not only bolster the Syrian economy but also embed the regime’s financial dependencies in a geopolitical framework that challenges the efficacy of Western sanctions.

Utilization of Local Resources and Industries

In response to the limitations on foreign imports, the Assad regime has also emphasized self-reliance by bolstering domestic production in certain sectors. For example, despite the destruction caused by the ongoing conflict, the regime has made efforts to revive and capitalize on local industries such as agriculture and phosphate mining. By increasing the production of these commodities, the regime not only attempts to reduce its dependency on imported goods but also generates revenue through exports to allied countries that do not participate in the sanctions regime.

Additionally, the Syrian government has implemented measures to control and regulate the distribution of essential goods within the country, often prioritizing regions and communities that are loyal to the regime. This selective allocation of resources serves a dual purpose: it helps stabilize areas crucial to the regime’s survival and acts as a mechanism of control and suppression over dissenting populations.

Economic Challenges and Public Hardship

Despite these adaptations, the Syrian economy faces severe challenges, exacerbated by sanctions and ongoing conflict. The Syrian pound has experienced significant devaluation, leading to hyperinflation and a dramatic increase in the cost of living for the average Syrian. Basic necessities such as food, medicine, and fuel have become scarce and prohibitively expensive for much of the population. This economic deterioration has resulted in widespread poverty and has strained the social fabric of Syrian society, potentially destabilizing the regime’s control in the long term.

Moreover, the regime’s focus on military expenditure and security has diverted resources from essential public services and infrastructure development, further impairing the country’s economic recovery and development. The healthcare system, educational institutions, and public utilities have all deteriorated, diminishing the quality of life and public health of the Syrian populace.

Impact on the Syrian Populace

The regime’s economic strategies, while aimed at circumventing sanctions and maintaining its grip on power, have imposed significant hardships on the Syrian populace. Widespread economic decline has led to increased unemployment and poverty, with many Syrians dependent on aid from international humanitarian organizations. The regime’s prioritization of military and security spending over public welfare has also contributed to a growing disparity in wealth and access to resources, fueling discontent and social unrest among the population.

In conclusion, the Syrian regime’s adaptation to international sanctions and economic pressures illustrates a complex landscape of resilience and strategic maneuvering. While these adaptations have enabled the regime to sustain itself and mitigate some of the impacts of sanctions, they have also contributed to significant public hardship and economic instability. As the Syrian conflict continues, the long-term sustainability of these strategies remains uncertain, particularly in light of the ongoing economic challenges and the potential for increased internal dissent.


The Assad regime’s evolution in response to the Syrian conflict underscores a complex interplay of domestic and international strategies aimed at ensuring its survival. Domestically, the regime’s consolidation of power through military actions, negotiations, and leveraging sectarian divisions has been pivotal. Internationally, the unwavering support from Russia and Iran has been instrumental in bolstering the regime’s military and economic capabilities, allowing it to withstand significant external pressures and maintain a strong negotiating position.

Despite the regime’s resilience, it continues to face formidable security and military challenges, including persistent insurgency threats, foreign military interventions, and internal fragmentation within its forces. Economic constraints and logistical challenges further complicate its efforts to sustain military operations and governance. However, the regime’s strategic adaptations, including economic restructuring, leveraging local resources, and deepening alliances with key allies, have enabled it to navigate these challenges effectively.

The recent changes in the Syrian security leadership reflect the regime’s ongoing efforts to consolidate power, enhance operational effectiveness, and align more closely with key allies. These adjustments, coupled with Iran’s growing influence in southern Syria, underscore the regime’s strategic maneuvers to maintain control over military and security operations amidst a volatile conflict landscape.

As the Syrian conflict continues to evolve, the Assad regime’s ability to adapt and strategize will remain crucial for its survival. The interplay between the regime’s objectives, the dynamic geopolitical environment, and the persistent challenges it faces will shape the future trajectory of the conflict and the stability of the region. The regime’s strategies, while ensuring its persistence, have also imposed significant hardships on the Syrian populace, highlighting the complex and multifaceted nature of the ongoing conflict.

Source: https://www.navvar-saban.com/post/resilient-tyranny-the-evolution-of-assad-s-survival-strategies-in-syria

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Follow us on Twitter


Follow us on Twitter