An Indian view on history, current affairs and politics

June 1, 2023

The Syrian war for Dummies

Mideast Syria

If you wage a war long enough, no country can remain aloof to the sound of beating war drums. The crisis in Syria is no longer an internal conflict. It has consumed nations far and wide. With over 100,000 killed and more than a million displaced, the human cost is staggering and set to rise as western powers are getting ready for their piece of action.

It all started in March 2011. Years of drought and burden of over a million Palestinian refugees had set the ideal grounds for a popular uprising. Arab spring ignited it. The ruling regime of Bashar Al-Assad wasn’t really compassionate in it’s handling of the protests. The protests quickly metamorphosed into armed struggle and spread across many cities in Syria. The opposition does not seem to have a central leadership with about thousand separate groups battling the Syrian army. Notable among them is Free Syrian Army which consists of soldiers defected from the Syrian Army, however the most organised and strong opposition comes from Al-Nusra Front which is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda. With over 15000 fighters this group offers the most potent resistance to Al-Assad’s army. The conflict in Syria is no longer a fight for democracy as it seemed earlier. With multiple groups fighting for different reasons this conflict has turned into a stalemate. As more and more countries get involved it is only going to get bloodier.

Syria is now at the helm of international diplomacy. Countries with sectarian bias, clandestine agendas, terror groups and leaders with bloated egos have all jumped in the fray and changed the nature and direction of this conflict. At the very base is the long standing Syrian-Israeli animosity. The neighbors have fought bitter wars and continue to engage in limited conflicts since armistice in 1949. Syria continues to support Iran’s view of annihilating Israel and provides support to terror groups hostile to Israel. Israeli intelligence has long been working on destabilizing the Syrian regime. In response Syria has received active men and materials support from Iran. In January 2013, Iran backed Palestinian terror group Hezbollah joined the conflict and sided with Syrian army. Its important to note that the Syrian regime is overwhelmingly Shiite. Given the opposition is majority Sunni Muslim, support from Shiite Iran and Hezbollah has only helped the suspicion that the conflict may have a sectarian overtone. In order to preserve and strengthen it’s presence in middle east Russia continues to back  Syrian regime with materials support.

The opposition on the other hand has received its share from a host of different nations. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are actively supporting Syrian rebel by funds and arms. According to a recent report Saudi Arabia even released 1200 of its death row prisoners after they accepted their offer to participate in the Syrian war instead of languishing in jail waiting for decapitation. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been reported to have offered to fund a US led attack and invasion, if it came to that. Of course in that case US would have looked like hire-a-gun militia with all its talk of ideals and humanity appearing farcical. Turkey headed by Tayyip Erdogan is another key player supporting the Rebels. Majority of the foreign fighters fighting alongside rebels are Turkish and get active support from the state.

Israeli jets have twice attacked targets inside Syria, in what they claimed was an operation to prevent delivery of armaments to Hezbollah in West Bank. US efforts in Syria backed by UK, France and other European nations are primarily aimed at assuaging Israel’s concerns and thwarting any attempts of unilateral strike by Israel. Ironically this makes them stand on the same side as Al-Qaeda. In August 2012, president Obama drew the famous red line, crossing which would trigger a US military response, regarding the use of chemical and biological weapons in Syrian war. There has been an alleged use of chemical weapon in Syrian town of Halabja on August 21. While US and allies have been quick to point fingers at Assad there hasn’t been any convincing proof of Syrian Army’s involvement. Al-Assad has reported that the attack was staged by Rebels to attract international engagement in the conflict. At the time of writing this article fierce negotiations are on between US and Russian to avoid an American strike on Syria and decide future of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles.

Addition: The discussion between US and Russia concluded with an agreement to hold any targeted attack on Syria and work towards bringing all chemical weapons stockpile under UN control.  A recent fact sheet released by UN based on findings of its investigation team confirms use of  Sarin gas. Attached is the UN fact sheet.