Defections are probably the most serious indication that Assad may be in trouble:
Syria’s armed forces have been slowly bleeding defectors and deserters since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began 16 months ago. But now the military arrivals reaching Syria’s neighbors are more likely than ever to have stars on their epaulets.
In just the past five days, a Syrian general, two colonels, a major and a lieutenant defected with 33 other soldiers and arrived in Turkey on Sunday night; two brigadier generals and two colonels from Aleppo announced their defection in an opposition video on Thursday; and on the same day a Syrian Air Force pilot, who was both a colonel and a squadron commander, flew his MIG-21 to Jordan to seek asylum.
This doesn’t appear to be at a level yet that threatens the ability of the Syrian military to take offensive and defensive action against the rebels, but it indicates either dissatisfaction with the actions of the government or concern that the government can’t win. Tipping point reasoning is only somewhat helpful; I suspect that because of sectarian concerns a substantial portion of the military will keep fighting even with bleak chances of success. Unless the regime can do a better job of quashing the rebellion than it’s done so far, though, we’re probably in for a long, slow, nasty fight. Unlike Libya, there don’t appear to be any convenient geographic points where we could imagine a partition between the combatants.
Back in January I predicted that Assad would make it through 2012. I’ll stick to that, but I’m less confident now, although I also don’t see much chance for any significant international intervention.