Looking back at 2016, it is clear that the Syrian civil war is going President Bashar al-Assad’s way. His Damascus government has been boosted by the Russian military intervention that started in autumn 2015, a surge in Iranian support, the weakening of the Islamic State (ISIS, or IS) and of rival opposition forces trapped in a spiral of sectarian extremism and infighting.
A year ago, I published a fairly long and detailed list of what I felt were the most important events in 2015, with a view to their likely impact in 2016, at Joshua Landis’ Syria Comment blog (still worth reading in my view, and useful background to this commentary).
Back then, the conflict trend also seemed to be running in Assad’s favor, though there were exceptions like the continuing economic and institutional decay of the Syrian state. Huge uncertainties remained, particularly regarding the efficiency of the Russian intervention, the economic situation, and Assad’s ability to flexibly play politics and capitalize on his military gains. Some of those questions have since been resolved, mostly though not exclusively in Assad’s favor, but other uncertainties remain—and the Syrian war is proving very resistant to predictions.
With all that in mind, here is another list, in order from least to most important...