The ‘Arab Spring’ spawns its seeds to Syria, starting 18 months ago. No one yet appears to know the exact nature of the Syrian opposition, now a common theme as the same vagaries existed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. We may not know the actual nature of it; we do know the players. The Free Syrian Army; the Muslim Brotherhood assembling their own militia, persistent reports of al Qaeda fighters passing into Syria from Iraq and Afghanistan. The ‘A’ team, Hiz’bAllah, along with Iran, is in the mix on behalf of the Assad regime; the Hiz’bAllah / Syrian connection has been a marriage of convenience for Hiz’bAllah and one may question ongoing Hiz’bAllah commitments to a failing Assad regime and Iran under economic attack. Will Hiz’bAllah bolt? Yes, if another alliance shows greater potential!
Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia support the rebels, no doubt based on a range of desires including removal of Alawite minority rule in Syria (not ‘true’ Muslims) to removal of a regional competitor, to the transformation of Syria into an Islamic state. Hiz’bAllah knows that the Saudi’s like clean hands once the money is passed. Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss???
Iran cannot afford to lose their Syrian allies. Iran has their own encirclement strategy and Syria is critical to it. Turkey is positioning itself for hegemony in the region; their chief competitor being Iran. Hiz’bAllah is dependent on Syrian support to maintain control in Lebanon. To this point Syria has been moderately ‘controllable’ from an Israeli point of view, however a change in leadership could present another aggressively radical Islamist nation on Israel’s border.
Iraq has rejected the Arab League’s call for Assad to step down arguing for non interference in Syrian affairs. The Iraqi position is essentially similar to the policy position of Iran; publically! The U.S. investment in Iraq has been rewarded with an Iraqi tilt toward Russia and China. Iranian influence in Iraq is undeniable. Remember Muktada al- Sadr, (Mookie to the troops) his movement has gained not lost power in Iraq. Al-Sadr is unabashedly pro Iranian.
Sound complicated? Always is in the Byzantine Middle East. All of this, however, is just a scratch on the surface. There will likely be more than one civil war in Syria’s future. The eventual removal of Assad will likely motivate the warring factions to move against each other in an internecine battle for control. A repeat of the horrific mess in Lebanon over the decades is not out of the realm of likelihood for Syria, just much worse! It will be worse because the regional balance of power has changed since then, as have the governing ideologies and capabilities.
Just in case this is not complicated enough add the conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Add the geo-political battle lines drawn by Russia and China. Russia still wants warm water ports, China wants the oil. The U.S. is essentially absent short of essentially meaningless rhetoric absent firm commitment. Fact is we are not a player, exactly what Russia and China wanted as a demonstration of weakness to the region in general. Policy execution was tepid in Egypt where the opposition refused to meet with the U.S. Secretary of State. Aggressive in Libya, absent in Syria. The absence in Syria could be hypothesized as a result of Turkish pressure and a warning that the U.S. can’t afford any more broken china in the Middle East.
Hiz’bAllah, allied with Iran will prop up Assad as little more than a useful, murderous idiot. The Brotherhood and al Qaeda will compete with the Syrian Free Army, being supported by Turkey. The Brotherhood has a long and tragic relationship with the Assad regime, memories are long in the Middle East. Al Qaeda is hard to predict other than the assurance of escalating random violence against anyone not on the Sharia train.
The Brotherhood wants a firm line of compliant countries under control along the Levant. Turkey wants to position themselves as the dominant player in the region, despite their ties to NATO. Iran wants an Islamic revolution throughout the region with Saudi Arabia ending up as the biggest loser. Saudi Arabia wants Iran brought under control.
Middle Eastern political violence tends to generate tsunami style ripple effects. Next target, Jordan and ‘moderate’ Gulf States; Jordan as a further encirclement of Israel.
It’s just the beginning!