BEIRUT — Syrian rebels are making significant advances in their battle against government forces, raising new questions about President Bashar Assad’s ability to hold on to power and adding urgency to the quest by the international community for a unified and effective political opposition that could take control should his regime collapse.
In the past week, the rebels have seized five important military facilities in the north, the east, and near the capital, Damascus, capturing sizeable quantities of weaponry, further isolating remaining government positions, and freeing up rebel forces to concentrate on attacking them.
The most recent base to fall was the Marj al-Sultan air base outside Damascus, which rebel fighters raided after using a tank to storm the perimeter. They said they destroyed eight aircraft, including three helicopters and two MiG fighter jets. None of the battles alone represented the kind of decisive military victory that the rebels need if they are to claim control of a city or province and prod the international community for greater support.
The rebels, most of them grouped loosely under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, have not demonstrated the capacity to capture any of the country’s major cities, and whether they will ever be in a position to dislodge the regime from the heavily guarded capital without help is in question.
Taken together, however, the gains underscore the steadily growing effectiveness of the rebel force and the accelerating erosion of what had once been one of the region’s most powerful armies, now severely depleted and on the defensive along almost all of the country’s many battlefronts.
The fighting is piecemeal, intense, and likely to persist for many more months as regime forces and rebel fighters battle it out town by town, base by base, across the vast swathes of the country that are being contested.
But no longer is it possible to describe the war in Syria as a stalemate, said Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the pace of rebel gains in recent weeks raises the prospect that a collapse of government forces could come sooner than has been expected.
‘‘The war is turning against the regime, and it’s turning at a faster rate than we had seen before,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a reasonable chance there will be some kind of breaking point, and the regime will collapse in a hurry. It’s not probable, but it’s possible, and then the guys with the guns will be in charge.’’
Putting a timetable on the regime’s likely demise is impossible, analysts say, in part because so many other variables are in play.