The war in Syria has been labeled with many names all of which avoid the actual underlying root of the conflict currently being fought. The Syrian conflict has been called by some a civil war yet a large number of the combatants are from places other than Syria. Others refer to Syria as a war between a nationalist dictator against Islamic Jihadists yet there are Jihadists from al-Qaeda on one side and Jihadists of Hezballah on the other as well as the Syrian Army remaining loyal to President Bashir al-Assad, a nationalist dictator, fighting the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary which also claims to be a nationalist oriented group. Another difficulty is the lack of unity on the side of the rebels as the nationalists and the Jihadists do not coordinate and often have separate goals. Their inability to work as a single entity may prove to be their undoing because it allows for them to be picked off individually and divides their numbers and efforts. As the Syrian conflict has continued there have been two themes, one internal and one external. The internal theme playing out on the ground in Syria is the age old Islamic struggle between Sunni and Shiite and which will be dominant. The external conflict is also a familiar one that recalls the struggles of the Cold War with one side being the Iranians and their Arab allies backed by Russia against the other side featuring the United States with NATO and the Gulf Oil Kingdoms being led by Saudi Arabia. If we look back and remember the old Cold War lines of the Middle East we would discover the old symmetry with Russia backing one side and the United States backing the other in any skirmish or small war which broke out. When the Unite States backed Iraq and Saddam Hussein the Russians backed Iran and the Ayatollahs. Go back even further when the United States backed Iran and the Shah then the Russians were the best friends with Iraq. The one country which has always been close to Russia though has been Syria while the United States kept ties through making one Arab nation a member of NATO, that being Turkey.
The future of the Syrian conflict appeared like it could be settled quickly in its early stages as the conflict had all the markings of what has already occurred in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The one trend which made the difference is easily seen looking back at the progressions and noting the differences. The overthrow of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali happened with great rapidity and minimal external influence encouraging events. Not too far behind came the resignation by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak which required a significantly longer stretch of demonstrations, considerably more violence than had occurred in Tunisia. This was followed by a number of events in the Gulf Regions where eventually Yemen was the sole government overthrown which again took external Western pressure and considerable violence which has yet to subside completely. The continued violence consists of tribal conflicts plus al-Qaeda forces also vying for control of much of the country. There had been some serious contentions and threats in Bahrain which was subsequently squelched by Saudi Arabian intervention. Also almost completely overlooked was the display by the Saudi Arabian government forces which pretty much prevented the fomenting of any honest threat or resistance to the Royal Family’s rule. The next major government to be overthrown was Libyan Dictator Moammar Gadhafi in a full-fledged Civil War lasting several months and requiring quite an amount of foreign intervention. NATO forces, consisting primarily of French, British and United States air power, were used to impose a No-Fly Zone over all of Libya and eventually even providing air support sorties aiding the rebel forces in their ground assaults. There were many rumors of NATO troops on the ground but such reports were more often denied, especially by the United States White House and President Obama. The Syrian conflict has lasted well over two years now and any possibilities of an early end are forgotten. There was no intervention by the United States or NATO as the Russians and Chinese blocked any United Nations Chapter 7 Resolutions which are required for the use of force. Refusing to allow a Chapter 7 Resolution has proven to be sufficient to prevent United States President Obama from taking actions as it has appeared that President Obama values any United Nations approval as necessary for him to act. Some have claimed that President Obama is more concerned with and subservient to the United Nations than he is the United States Congress. Without participation from the United States, even leading from behind style support like in Libya, there was absolutely no possibility of the rest of NATO or the European Union taking action by themselves. Thus no outside interventions have led to longer conflicts as time progressed, which also brought more vicious fighting and far higher casualties both among combatants and the innocent civilians. Further proof of this is the oft ignored fact that the fighting has yet to completely end in Libya as the different tribes are still contesting control of the more remote areas far from the major cities.
As the war continues to grind on the main fight has evolved to where there are now five main forces vying for control. There are still the two rebel groups where the nationalist forces have been unable to refresh their troops as the fighting has taken its toll while the Jihadists, who have declared their complete allegiance with al-Qaeda, have been drawing in support from Sunni Jihadists throughout the Arab World and have become the stronger force amongst the rebels. On the other side are the forces supporting the continued rule by al-Assad. Even here there are two main groups; one being Syrian military forces who have remained loyal to al-Assad largely because they are, like him, Alawite Shiites facing likely death should he lose, and the other group being loyal to Iranian interests and who will continue to fight even should al-Assad fall from power as using Syria as a base and staging area as well as a vital link in the Iranian Crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. The two parts of the Iranian forces are the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) who are actual Iranian trained military troops specializing in foreign interventions and terror support and Hezballah which is the Iranian proxy government in Lebanon where they have replaced the Lebanese government through voter intimidation and assassinations in order to form a favorable coalition. These Iranian forces in Syria pose the greatest threat to the lives of civilians as they have little compunction when it comes to slaughtering civilians or anybody else who may be considered an obstacle or simply in the wrong place at an inconvenient time. Should the fighting continue long enough the Syrian Civil War will mostly be fought between forces which are not Syrian in their origins, they will be al-Qaeda fighting against the IRGC and Hezballah. As far as anybody intervening, the only country likely to take such measures as things stand now are the Russians, but for the time being they will most likely simply supply munitions and other material in support of al-Assad. The one significant introduction the Russians are currently planning is the S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems which they have stated will not arrive before some time in 2014. Of course, should any NATO, European Union or United States forces enter in support of the rebels, then the Russians would likely send the S-300 missile systems immediately and possibly provide their own air support or whatever forces would be required to counter such measures.
It is in the possibilities that Syria could spread beyond its own borders that possess the greatest threat. The possibility of Russian intervention is currently not a significant threat and would remain insignificant for as long as al-Assad is not in dire threat of being dethroned. The other possible situation where Russia would enter the conflict would be in response to the United States, NATO, European Union, or possibly even Turkey or Israel were to enter on the side of the rebels against al-Assad. The other threat that exists is al-Assad taking the option of expanding the war which could be accomplished in four ways, by attacking Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, or Israel or any combination of these nations. We can very easily rule out Iraq as they have become an extension of Iran and are almost completely under Iranian influence. Al-Assad would have to completely lose his senses to open a front with Turkey as the Turkish military is vastly better equipped and trained than is the Syrian military. Opening a front with Jordan might be an option but doing such would not likely be to any advantage for al-Assad and his allies, so that is also unlikely. Attacking Israel is an entirely different scenario. It is a distinct possibility that al-Assad might believe that should the Israelis once again use their air power to destroy armaments or other supplies for any reason, such being transferred into Lebanon for Hezballah to use at their convenience against Israel being the most probable reason as such has already occurred, that by retaliating against the Israelis and declaring an Arab Holy War, a Jihad, for the annihilation of every Jew and the liberation of all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, a genocidal war of conquest, that such an act would gather the entirety of the Arab World to fight by his side against the common enemy. The one problem with such a plan is that should nobody join in his declared Holy War, then he would be facing Israel alone. Facing Israeli Defense Forces would definitely tip the balance of power away from al-Assad, but it would also not be beneficial to the IRGC forces or to the Hezballah forces as Israel would very likely do whatever it took to eliminate their presence as long as they were in the neighborhood. The only reason such a suicidal attack by Syrian Military on Israel might be taken would be in the hopes that once Israel retaliated and was earnestly engaged that Russia might be persuaded that this was actually an Israeli initiative and thus have Russian troops enter in order to rescue al-Assad and the rest of the Russian supported forces. After all, Russia has a number of clients’ forces currently operating within Syria with al-Assad, and old and loyal client, Iran, also a long time client, and Hezballah.
Whatever the future holds, the conflict in Syria will continue to take its toll in life and property all because when supporting the rebels might have resulted in a definitive and quick war with the nationalists likely to prevail, there was nobody willing to step up and provide the necessary support. That has brought the world to the point where Russia has cast their dye into the waters promising to act should anybody interfere in Syria against al-Assad. Meanwhile, it appears that John McCain and President Obama are about to repeat the same dance they performed which led to the United States with French and British assistance provided air-cover and support for the rebel forces in Libya. This could prove to be the first domino falling that starts the torrent of dominoes rippling across the face of the globe. Russian promises are best not tempted, but somehow I doubt the President Obama believes the Russians are serious or would dare to oppose him. President Obama possesses sufficient hubris that it just might be that he believes that he can stand toe-to-toe and force Russian President Putin to blink. The only question is will President Putin need to take off his shirt before the staring contest begins because there is no question that Putin does not know how to blink.
Beyond the Cusp