Adam L. Silverman, PhD**
As the Syrian Civil War continues into its third year, there are several potential outcomes that we need to look out for and be concerned with. These are not just limited to Syria, but to the entire Levant, and even to Iran. So lets run the board in order:
There are really two key potential outcomes and one sequel for Syria itself: stalemate driven insurgency, the fall of the Assads leading to a Sunni majority takeover, and the withdrawl of the Alawites to Latakia.
It is, in some respects, both surprising and not surprising that the Assad government has held on for as long as it has. In many ways the Syrian Civil War is both an Assad and Alawite existential fight. which partially explains just how hard the government has responded and how far it is willing to go to survive. One of the two most likely outcomes to the dispute is that the government is strong enough to survive, but not strong enough to completely put down the rebellion and that the rebellion is not strong enough to overthrow the government, but just strong enough to survive. If this happens, then we will see a classic insurgency along the lines of what the Philippines has endured with the Moros on Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago and similar to what Columbia has faced with the FARC. In this situation Syria essentially gets carved up into two or more statelets - with government control in some areas and rebel control in others.
The second potential outcome is that the Assad government does fall and the Sunni majority, or some faction of it takes over. And it is this latter concept of faction that is important. There is clearly no good cohesion among the rebel groups, both the domestic Syrian and the foreign fighters/jihadis, as well as between them. While it may ultimately be a good thing for the region if Assad goes, it will not be a simple transition. The various factions are likely to try to consolidate power, claim and then establish legitimacy, and will come to blows with each other over who will take control. This possible outcome has the potential to turn into a Syrian version of the Thirty Years War, where different factions try to and/or actually seize power, seek to consolidate, face challenges to their legitimacy, and then the cycle of violent succession starts all over again. This would, unlike the actual Thirty Years War, not end in the creation of a secular state, as the Syrian Sunni majority is conservative and devout even though it is not Salafist. So do not expect a secular Sunni majority Syria to emerge.
In both of these two potential outcomes their is a sequel: the fallback of the Alawites, with or without the Assads, to their traditional lands in Latakia. Latakia is the mountainous strip of Syria below Turkey on the coast of the Mediterranean. While it is not completely fortifiable, it is certainly good ground - to paraphrase MG Buford - for digging in and trying to make a stand. Not only would this prolong the dispute, but it would complicate Syria's claims to their portions of the recently discovered Leviathan petroleum and natural gas field in the eastern Mediterranean.