(photo credit: REUTERS)
A perfect storm appears to be brewing in Syria, in which Russia and Iran are reportedly increasing their support for Bashar Assad’s regime, just as Western countries contemplate increasing their involvement in the war-torn country.
The fact that Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia are willing to escalate the conflict by placing forces on the ground and increasing arms shipments means that Assad’s position in power is assured for the near future.
This is likely to remain the case so long as the West does not make any concrete effort to tip the scales in the other direction.
Despite statements from European capitals stating that they would like to join US air strikes against Islamic State, it is difficult to imagine that such an operation would directly confront the Syrian regime.
Increasing attacks against Islamic State would also aid Assad by hurting one of its enemies.
The overwhelming Sunni Middle East, supported by Gulf cash, will probably – in the long run – succeed in toppling Assad’s regime.
Russia and Iran assume that increasing their military support will not only strengthen the regime’s position during negotiations over any political settlement, but will also work to solidify Assad’s Alawite coastal enclave in the absence of one.
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“Russia is upping the ante in Syria in an attempt to convince the West to reverse its stand that Assad must go,” Joshua Landis, a Syria expert and the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told The Jerusalem Post
Putin insists that the Assad regime be part of any future plans for a resolution to the Syrian conflict.
“The Russian effort is unlikely to succeed,” Landis continued, noting US President Barack Obama’s insistence that Assad step aside.
To support this policy, the US administration is supporting its Sunni allies, Turkey and the Gulf countries, which are using rebel groups to weaken the Syrian military in order to force major concessions, he said.
“By siding with the Sunni rebel forces in Syria, the US has seemingly committed itself to ushering in a Sunni ascendancy in Syria, much as it ushered in a Shiite ascendancy in Iraq in 2003,” Landis explained.
“This will mean an end to the Alawite dominated security state, something Russia and Iran vociferously insist they will not accept.”
“Get ready for more fighting and refugees,” predicted Landis.
Prof. Lawrence Rubin, a Middle East expert from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told the Post that the refugee crisis may push Europeans to become more involved with – and perhaps more supportive of – US actions. “But the more important game will be between the US and Russia,” he said.
There are three critical questions that will drive the violence, Rubin argues. What’s Putin’s end goal? What type of risk is he willing to run to achieve it? And how will Assad’s opponents, including the US, react? If recent reports of the arrival of Russian forces to Syria are correct, the Kremlin’s military presence in the region seems to have more formally committed it to ensuring the survival of the Assad regime or some related successor that is both Russiaand Iran-friendly, said Rubin, author of Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics.
“Yet, it is unclear what type of risk of escalation Putin is willing to run and whether it’s part of a plan to impose a military solution or a political one. The uncertainty surrounding Putin’s manipulation of risk could lead to even greater violence when Islamic State and other rebel groups target Russian interests not just in Syria but elsewhere,” he said.
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