On the diplomatic front, a UN resolution seeking to end the bloodshed was predictably vetoed by Moscow and Beijing. Nonetheless, hours before the vote and under intense media and foreign scrutiny, Assad launched his deadliest assault yet. The offensive in Homs, which is still ongoing, has killed thousands and was a clear message to the international community that the regime is far from finished.
Another contributing factor is that the Assad regime is not without its allies. Damascus continues to receive support from Russia, China, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. The commander of Iran's Al-Quds force is reportedly serving in Syria's war-room and Hezbollah and Iranian forces are actively fighting alongside Assad's forces. For the opposition, recently failed diplomatic initiatives are likely to compel Western and Sunni Arab states to begin a campaign of covert arming, funding and training of rebel forces. This would be a major development, but for the short term the opposition will remain capable of merely slowly bleeding Assad's military.
With neither side able to achieve a total victory in the short term, the situation is likely to foment a continued breakdown of the Syrian state as a cohesive and fully functioning entity. Areas with a heavy minority presence will remain loyal to the ruling regime. While predominately Sunni areas opposed to Assad's rule will continue attempts to establish beachheads for a further insurgency.
Besides organized fighting, communal warfare between rival sects is likely to increase in towns and cities of mixed populations. Moreover, should the security situation deteriorate to a point of no return, the Assad government could resort to withdrawing to its historical power base in the mountains of northwest Syria and attempt to reestablish an independent Alawite state there.
Most analysis regarding the Syrian war continues to gloss over the sectarian issues which are at the heart of this conflict. The country's Sunnis have come too far and achieved too much to simply abandon their cause outright. Also, their defeat would subsequently put them at the mercy of an even more ruthless and dictatorial regime. With revolutionary fervor and Islamist sentiments gripping the region, they likely feel now is their best chance to remove the 40-plus year Alawite domination of Syria.
On the other side, being an unprotected minority in the Middle East is often a painful reality which the Alawites, Druse, Christians and Kurds know all too well. These groups have been protected by the Assad regime for decades and this is not something they take for granted. With that being considered, Alawites have legitimate fears that their entire existence is in jeopardy, and will continue their fight to protect it. With neither side willing to give in, Syrians are entrenching for a long and bloody civil war.