syria conflict funeral 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Syrian civil war is no longer a conflict mainly concerned with the fate of
Rather, it is a fight being waged by regional and global powers
and rivals, in the vacuum left by the collapse of Syria as a functioning
Four events this week demonstrated this reality with increasing
The first and clearest indication is the increasing and ever
more open engagement of the Iranians and their Hezbollah proxies
Sunday, Hezbollah and regime forces, with the presence of Iranian advisers and
backed by Syrian artillery and air power, attacked the strategic city of Qusayr.
Rebel-held Qusayr lies 10 km. from the Lebanese border. The regime side must
secure it in order to maintain control of the highway between Damascus and the
This forms the centerpiece of a larger campaign by President
Bashar Assad’s regime and its allies to drive the rebels back in Homs province.
Their aim is to ensure the link between the capital and the Alawite west, and
contiguity between the regime-held western coastal area and the
Hezbollah-controlled northern Beqa’a. This is a strategic goal for the Iranians,
since it will keep open the possibility of supplying Hezbollah from the Syrian
ports of Tartus and Latakia, on Syria’s western coast.
The regime assault
on Qusayr city does not, however, appear to have gone to plan. Regime and
Iranian media outlets declared this week that the greater part of the city was
now in their hands; rebel sources and media flatly denied this. While sorting
out the precise lines of the battle is not currently possible, the fighting is
clearly not over. Rebel forces are augmented by the presence of an unknown
number of Sunni jihadi volunteers from Lebanon. Prominent Lebanese Salafi Sheikh
Ahmad al-Assir also visited the city a few weeks before the regime assault
began. The fighting in the west threatens to suck in ever greater resources from
Iran and Hezbollah, as the unexpected resilience of the rebels prevents the
achievement of vital goals.
The second example of widening conflict took
place in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli this week, when as a direct
result of the Qusayr battle, fighting broke out again between supporters and
opponents of Assad in Syria. Three people were killed as residents of the
predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood clashed with Sunnis from the
pro-rebel Bab al-Tabbaneh area. Mortars as well as small arms were used in the
fighting. It was a further indication that Lebanon is teetering on the brink of
new and generalized sectarian strife, as fallout from the involvement of the
Lebanese on rival sides in the war in Syria.
A third illustration was
closer to home: IDF troops were fired at on three consecutive days from the same
area across the Syrian Golan border, and responded by firing a Tammuz rocket.
These incidents follow a series of statements from Assad and officials close to
him indicating the commencement of low-intensity operations using proxies in the
Golan Heights area.
As in the fighting in western Syria, the guiding hand
behind this appears to be that of Iran. Iranian deputy chief of staff Masoud
Jazayeri said in a May 18 interview on with Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar TV: “From
a security and military perspective, I should say that the liberation of the
Golan is not impossible; it can happen... In the next few months, we will
witness fundamental changes in the region... some of which will pass through the
Golan, Allah willing.”
The Iranian intention appears to be to open up a
low level of ongoing military activity in the south. The purpose, presumably, is
largely propagandistic. Such action will make it easier to portray the rebellion
as in alliance with Israel and the West (who, of course, are objects of derision
for both sides in Syria).
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, meanwhile,
reiterated his determination this week to “prevent the transfer of advanced
weapons to Hezbollah and to other terrorist elements.” Netanyahu’s statement
leaves open the possibility of further Israeli raids to prevent such
And lastly – Russia this week sent a naval task force to the
Mediterranean, to patrol the waters around the naval base in
Tartus, of course, is situated firmly in the heart of the western
coastal area that Hezbollah and the Iranians are currently seeking to
consolidate and expand. The move was as a clear demonstration from Moscow to the
west that Russia continues to stand firmly behind its Syrian clients.
in a single week – Iranian and Hezbollah elements spearheaded the fighting on
the war’s most crucial front, a manifestation of the Syrian war erupted in
northern Lebanon, the regime engaged in a series of provocations against the IDF
on the Golan, the IDF responded and the prime minister pledged his determination
to continue to interdict the delivery of advanced weapons systems from Iran to
Hezbollah on Syrian soil. All this – as the Russian navy cast a deepening shadow
over Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Iran and its allies are now dominant on the
regime side, with Russia behind them. The Sunni rebels, backed by Turkey, Saudi
Arabia and Qatar, are proving resilient after recent setbacks.
importantly, Syria is now the most active front of the Israel-Iran conflict.
Israel is continuing to clearly state its red lines, and will presumably seek to
enforce these in the period ahead. There is thus no significant player on the
Middle East regional stage that is now not involved on one level or another in
the Syrian civil war (with the notable exception, of course, of the
Syria today is a crucible – in which the strength, resourcefulness
and resilience of all elements are being put to the test.
The balance of
power in the Middle East may well depend on the outcome of this test.