Is the Syrian Civil War Becoming a Regional War?
According to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, the three-year old Syrian War is now a “Regional War,” having drawn in other nations and non-state actors as belligerents in the conflict.
Here is a quick look at the facts of this nasty civil war back up the General’s analysis. The war in Syria began as a protest movement against the dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Having inherited his power from his father, the late Hafez al-Assad, the current Syrian president is the head of the Ba’ath Party, and a member of the Alawite religious minority in Syria. The Assads have long been allied to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and, in turn, have been key sponsors of the Shi’ite militias of Lebanon, in particular, the powerful Hezbollah terrorist group.
As the violence in Syria has escalated, and the Assad regime has lost more territory to the rebels, other actors have entered the fray. Pro-Western Muslim nations in the neighborhood, including Turkey and Jordan, are openly giving sanctuary and aid to the Free Syrian Army rebels. Saudi Arabia and other rich Gulf States are providing economic and moral support to the rebels as well. The NATO allies are also providing support for the defense of Turkey and Jordan, while also aiding the rebels.
On the opposite side, Hezbollah is now sending its military forces into Syria to fight for the Assad regime, while Iran supplies the government forces with weapons, training, and financial support. Some reports claim that Iranian military personnel are also involved in the fighting. Shi’ite militias from Iraq are also reportedly in Syria helping the regime.
The 800-pound gorilla, so to speak, in the neighborhood is Israel. Still technically at war with Syria since the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948, Israel is very worried about the transfer of advanced weapons from Assad to Hezbollah. In particular, Israel is worried about long-range Iranian and Russian-supplied missile transfers and the potential for Syria’s stock of chemical weapons falling into Hezbollah’s hands. To this end, Israel has launched at least three air strikes in recent months to prevent such transfers. All this while also responding to shots and rounds falling into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Israel has provided medical assistance to Syrian rebels in the border region, and speculation has arisen as to whether Israeli Special Forces have been inside Syria lately.
With the ongoing tensions between Israel, Turkey, Jordan and the Western Allies on one side, and the Syrian Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Iran on the other (as well as the ongoing tension and terrorism in neighboring Iraq), it is safe to say that General Myers is correct in that the Syrian Civil War has now evolved into a true regional conflict with the potential to erupt into a major Middle East War.
Syrian rebel fighter in Aleppo