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October 28, 2015

The War in Syria Expands

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It can't be said that the media ignores the war in Syria. New elements in the conflict are reported and certainly the flow of refugees has become a visible issue. But connecting these different strands into a more coherent discussion of the evolution of the conflict is helpful.

Over this past year, there has been a noticeable trend toward the internationalization of the civil war.

Outside powers driven by ambition and ideology are increasingly injecting themselves into the conflict. Meanwhile the continual violence has set in motion population flight, creating new problems that reach far beyond the borders of the war-torn land. Some have drawn analogies to the Spanish civil war in the 1930s, which was a prelude to a much greater conflagration.

This past week, several articles from varied non-mainstream news sites provided updated information on the conflict.

Several Arab sources recently claimed a figure of 1263 hezbollah dead. While it is wise to be wary of precise casualty figures, there is little doubt that Hezbollah continues to experience the drip-drip of losses in Syria. Whether Hezbollah's involvement in this war will enhance or diminish the organization remains an open question. That will depend at least in part on the depth of allegiance to it felt by the Shiite population in Lebanon.

Iran is expanding its role in the conflict. This past week saw reports of several senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard [IRGC] commanders killed in the fighting and a tally of 20 IRGC fatalities. While the numbers are still quite small, they do suggest that Iranians are playing a more direct role in the fighting. New funds that will flow to Iran from the nuclear agreement are likely to lead to increased Iranian involvement.

The Russian intervention represents a major step in the internationalization of the war. It is unclear at this point where the direct Russian involvement will lead. Is this the beginning of a large scale intervention or will Russian activity be limited?

An area of interest, especially for those concerned about Israel, is whether Russian or Iranian influence is felt most strongly in whatever Syrian regime emerges from the war. The Alawite-dominated Syrian regime has aligned itself with Iran in opposition to the regional Sunni majority. It would be interesting to learn more about the compatibility of Alawites with Shiite fundamentalism.

This past week also saw reports of Jordanian cooperation with Russia. Jordan has traditionally been exclusively aligned with the United States.

Turkey is another potential intervener with a long history of confrontation with Russia. Its domestic stability is threatened by the consolidation of power by its Islamist president, an increasingly vocal Kurdish minority and economic mismanagement. Turkey is a NATO member and a major transit point for the emigration of Middle Easterners into Europe.

In sum, this is a combustible mixture, that could lead to a more expansive war.


Posted by SS at October 28, 2015 02:01 PM

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