Taufiq Rahim, Dubai-based strategy adviser and political analyst:
I think he feels really emboldened by what happened with the announcement by Jabhat al-Nusra that they were not just merging with al-Qaeda, but allowing al-Qaeda’s leader to be their leader as well. He sees this as the culmination, the realization of the narrative he’s been pushing all along, that it’s a foreign-driven conflict and that it is led by al-Qaeda and that the rebels are synonymous with al-Qaeda. And in many ways until now there are bits and pieces that support that; there have been foreign fighters captured and there have been statements made. But at this moment two years on, he feels very confident that his narrative is becoming not just one more accepted or expressed by analysts but one that it seems the rebels themselves are adopting. So he’s really feeling confident in that sense. And he just had the ability to break open that supply route into Aleppo, so he’s got some tactical confidence right now. He’s feeling the wind in his sails, or however the expression goes.
Nikolaos van Dam, former Dutch ambassador to Iraq and Egypt and author of ‘The Struggle for Power in Syria’:
President Bashar al-Assad is addressing the Western countries that have been deliberating for months and months who they should support. The section of the interview [published on the website of the presidency] is almost completely directed toward a Western audience and almost fully translated into English. He has a point that Western countries supported groups, particularly in Afghanistan, which later turned against them… Most countries support the opposition and in many ways this is correct, but by now they should also realize it will not bring about the fall of the regime within any foreseeable time. In order to save many lives it is worthwhile to look for other solutions besides force.
For the Syrian regime, it was a very welcome development from a PR point of view that Jabhat al-Nusra publically announced their cooperation with al-Qaeda. To anyone in the West, al-Qaeda is a very well-known concept. [Assad is] saying that when you support the opposition, you support al-Qaeda.
He describes any armed opposition [members] as terrorists. This is a mistake that has been made in many conflicts, like how Israelis call any armed opposition terrorists. Not distinguishing between extremist Islamist forces like Jabhat al-Nusra and other more secular moderate forces is not going to bring any opening.