I see the conflict in Syria moving in the direction of a tenuous and unstable 'mix' between scenarios 1 & 2. The other three listed scenarios, while not inconceivable, are, to my mind, far-fetched in varying degrees. Looking more deeply at the Geneva III pathway versus the Protracted Conflict road there is a strong possibility that they could both co-exist separately , and even feed on each other symbiotically well into the future. Time, however, in the absence of serious progress on the political-diplomatic front will, necessarily favour the strengthening of the foundations of a de facto division into spheres of influence, even if the fighting itself is much reduced , or even brought to a halt as the belligerents finally succumb to the impossibility of battlefield victory. However, such a shaky denouement, while responding to the potential fatigue of the fighters on the ground and to the cries of horror and anguish that may eventually become too unbearable to the eyes and ears of the most hardened of hearts locally and internationally, will create its own strategic challenges that may prove just as intolerable. Chief of these challenges is the 'Daesh' factor and how it would fit into such a blurred patchwork of claimed territorial 'warlord' domains. Regional and international stakeholders in the Syrian conflict may be happy to agree--at least tacitly-- to an unofficial sharing of the spoils among most of the armed contingents that answer to them. But Daesh represents a different model altogether: a loose and very explosive cannon that constitutes a clear and present danger to all (with the possible exception, at least tactically, of Turkey, for which Daesh is less of an immediate menace than the Kurdish PKK affiliated YPD). That ever-more looming threat from Daesh may arguably swing matters in favour of a Geneva 3 scenario. Pointers to such an eventually have recently been signalled by both Washington and Moscow. The recent 'summoning' to the Russian capital of the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, to be told of the necessity of Syria entering into a regional alliance to combat Daesh--an alliance deemed by an unnerved Muallem to require a miracle--is one such pointer. It is clear to the Syrian leadership that the drive to building such a coalition entails the necessity of a 'political settlement' within Syria that can then mobilise the country for the common cause of fighting Daesh. Meaning of course a transformation of the regime and the sidelining if not the complete removal of Assad, which remains a sine qua non for any putative regional and international alliance, at least in the eyes of the major power-brokers -Washington, Riyadh, Ankara- with whom Moscow hopes to engage in what it regards as an urgent mission against a close enemy whose threat it can ill-afford to ignore. Much will surely also depend on Iran, which, to the Syrian regime, remains the best bulwark against the possible softening of Moscow's position. In that respect the dynamic created by the expected agreement over Iran's nuclear future will be the focus of intense scrutiny in the months to come.
Ghayth Armanazi is a Syrian media specialist and former diplomat based in London.