So after more than a year of fighting and after Western-led efforts at stopping the violence proved to be largely fruitless, what's changed? The nexus seems to be the defection of a member of Assad's inner circle, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass. The bonds of power between the Tlass and Assad families go back decades in Syria. Tlass' father, Mustafa, was a former defense minister who helped to usher Bashar Assad's father Hafez into power; Manaf Tlass has long been a loyal member of Bashar Assad's ruling cabal.
That someone as well-connected as Tlass would decide to jump ship is a stunning vote of no-confidence for the Assad regime, and one that many other seem to have taken note of. Syria's ambassador to Iraq defected on Wednesday, seeking asylum in that country and calling on Syria's military to revolt againts Assad; this morning the BBC made an as-yet unconfirmed report that Syria's ambassador to Belarus has also defected. Meanwhile, Russia has sent a flotilla of navy ships, including one destroyer and three amphibious landing craft from their Black Sea fleet to Tartus, Syria, where Russia maintains a naval facility. The flotilla is said to be transporting a detachment of weapons and Russian marines.
Russia raised eyebrows a few weeks ago when they first discussed sending ships and weapons to Tartus. Western diplomats feared that Russia might be trying to intervene on behalf of their old ally Assad, though the Russian government issued assurances that any military action would only to be to protect the Russian naval facility and Russian personnel in Tartus. That Russia is now making such a show of force with their Tartus flotilla is a pretty clear indication that they expect there is a high chance for widespread unrest in Tartus in the near future. And widespread unrest in Tartus would likely be the result of the chaos expected to follow in the wake of Assad's removal from power.
Since Russia has much closer ties to the current Syrian government than do any Western nations, it is not a unreasonable supposition to assume they have a clearer picture of what's happening on the ground in Syria than do officials in Washington or London. Therefore the movement of Russian marines into the region, along with the defections of Tlass and several Syrian ambassadors are all indications of a regime on the edge of collapse.
How will that collapse occur? It is highly unlikely that the rag-tag Syrian opposition will be able to launch a major assault on Damascus. Keep in mind that in Libya, the Libyan rebels were only able to execute their drive on Tripoli after the US/NATO “humanitarian” mission began acting as the rebel's de facto air force; the walls of Gadhafi's Tripoli compound were breached by laser-guided bombs dropped from Coalition aircraft. The Syrian rebels do not have this assistance. Bashar's end then will likely come from an uprising within his own inner circle; either through loyalists who have grown tired of waging war against their own people, or through loyalists who see the tide turning against them and hope to curry some favor with the rebel leaders by delivering up to them the symbol of their oppression, or by removing Assad from power, permanently, themselves.