As the civil war continues to murder innocents with the latest estimate approaching one-hundred-thousand murdered civilians and over one and a half million refugees fled to neighboring Turkey and Jordan there is a group of nations attempting to influence who wins. The problem is that many of these outsiders are backing different forces which serve to extend the fighting possibly endlessly producing no winners, just increasing casualties in an endless procession. First we need to define the disparate groups and then find who is backing whom. The supposed home team definition would likely have to go the current President for life Bashir al-Assad and the Alawite tribe from which he comes. There are two sets that are considered rebel forces which sometimes cooperate and at other periods work either independently or actually impede each other. One rebel group consists mostly of members from the Muslim Brotherhood while the other consists of forces aligned with Jabhat al-Nusra which is the al-Qaeda terror group. Then there are two other groups which currently support Syrian President Bashir Assad but actually represent the Iranian interests and are likely to continue to engage in the war even after Assad collapses or is killed. These two groups are Hezballah, the terrorist group whose political wing currently leads the ruling coalition in Lebanon, and the IRGC, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, a group of fighters which make up a second military force roughly equivalent in size, equipment, training and capabilities to the Iranian Armed Forces used mostly to assist in foreign interventions, terrorist training internationally and domestically as required, and any other clandestine operations which may be assigned by the leadership of Iran. So, generally speaking there exist five groups vying to take control over all of Syria.
Oddly enough getting the teams all figured out who are operating within Syria is difficult enough, but trying to untangle the external interests and influences is far more complicated especially when dissecting their various motives. Let us first address the most up front, above board and obvious of the external influences. The most obvious is Turkey who is steadily supplying arms to both rebel forces for the most selfish of reasons, assuring their continued preeminence as the only stable rout for oil and gas pipelines. There is a further reason driving Turkey in providing arms for the rebel groups which is that there is no love lost between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syria President Bashir Assad as both view themselves as a leader in some future Muslim Caliphate, Assad as leader of the Arab nations in an Iranian Caliphate and Erdogan as leader of a reborn Ottoman Caliphate. Add to this that as long as there exists some sustained level of violence which would discourage construction of new oil and gas routes through Syria then Turkey, with its already existent pipelines, would remain the uncontested and sole route of pipelines for oil and gas from the Arabian Peninsula and related reserves.
Another supplier of arms to one of the rebel forces is Saudi Arabia who is backing the Muslim Brotherhood aligned rebels. The Saudi interest is the opposite of Turkey as the Saudis would very much like to have an additional player supplying pipelines to the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe as competition would result in lower prices for them in transporting their oil and gas. Furthermore, the Saudis are rivals of the Iranians and thus would love to see Bashir Assad removed from ruling Syria thus breaking the Iranian crescent in which Syria is a vital link connecting Iran and Iraq through to Lebanon and the ports of the Mediterranean Sea. The Saudi Arabians are supported by the rest of the members of the GCC, Gulf Cooperation Council; whose members are of far less military capabilities thus the Saudis make all the decisions. The Saudis are also counting on support by the United States but they may run into some surprises in that relationship which we will cover later.
Then there are those exterior forces supporting the Syrian military and Syrian President Bashir Assad and at the same time defending the Iranian interests. These two groups are the IRGC and the Hezballah terror group. Should Bashir Assad fall either by fearing being taken by the rebel groups who would likely give him treatment similar to that used to dispatch Libyan Dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a rather unpleasant death, these two groups would simply continue the fight in support of their true masters, the Iranians. To either of these forces the continuance of Bashir Assad as the President of Syria is simply something that makes their presence in the fight more readily explainable. Remove Assad and their real motivations are revealed and Iran would be uncovered as the true force behind Assad remaining in power. Another nation supporting Bashir Assad, even if in a somewhat limited manner, is Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Russia has thus far limited their support to continuing to fill all past weapons orders they have agreed to with Syria and are preventing any overt support for the rebels such as interventions or establishment of a no-fly zone by the United States or NATO. The most disturbing participation by the Russians is their intent to follow through with the sale and supply of their S-300 Anti-Aircraft Missile Systems which would make any Israeli strikes to prevent chemical weapons or other game-changing weapons from being transferred to the Hezballah forces in Lebanon for use against Israel in the future more hazardous. There is one potential future situation which would prove most intriguing, if President Assad should be killed or otherwise removed from the situation, would Russia continue their support giving the future weapons shipments to the IRGC and Hezballah or would their interest in the situation in Syria be terminated.
And then there is the most troubling foreign influence, and that is the United States and President Obama. The obvious interpretation of the United States interests is that they are aligned with Saudi Arabia and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and against the entirety of other forces. This façade also has another participant, Turkey, who also appears to work with the Saudis while also passing weapons to their intended recipient without question. Some of these weapons are intended for Jabhat al-Nusra as they are supplied from the al-Qaeda forces and influences who were involved in Libya. There have been rumors that the truth behind the catastrophe in Benghazi may have been related to attempts to prevent powerful and game-changing weapons, possibly stinger missiles, from being sent from Libya to undesirable recipients. Even if such a proposition were true, that is one truth that will never see the light of day. As is said, some secrets are secrets for a very good reason and as such must remain nothing more than a rumor, a whisper in the tempest and nothing more.
Beyond the Cusp