America vs. Iran vs. Israel vs. Saudi Arabia vs. Lebanon vs. Russia vs. Turkey, A.K.A. The Syrian Civil War
The Syrian Civil War continues unabated, though forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad have captured al-Qusayr, a key part of an important supply route for the militant forces. Meanwhile, international forces are hard at work on both sides of the conflict, providing support or fomenting discord, to accomplish a myriad of political ends.
1. The West
Despite confirmation of the use of chemical weapons and a UN report claiming the Syrian conflict is becoming more brutal, the West remains hesitant to directly involve itself in the conflict. The West is unable to support the government and its brutal use of force against civilians and militants, but it is also unable to support the various factions of militants fighting against the regime. (Using the term Free Syrian Army over-simplifies the situation, as the group is anything but an organized military force, lacks appropriate political representation, and doesn't share end-state goals.) Assisting, equipping, and training such a diverse group is likely to generate greater insecurity than it would hope to resolve.
The West has a number of tools available at its disposal, each with its own pros and cons:
Arm the Militants: Supporting the militants could help turn the tide of the conflict with minimal risk and cost, but would likely alienate pro-Syrian Russia.
Air Strikes: A more expensive solution that directly threatens servicemen, an air campaign similar to Libya's's could be conducted in support of the rebel forces. However, the risk of entanglement in another conflict is not palatable to many Western countries.
Full-Fledged Invasion: The most expensive, least feasible, and therefore least desirable option, a ground operation would entangle large numbers of forces for years following the ending of the conflict, as the conflict has escalated beyond a political battle to a sectarian one.
For now, the European Union has ended the embargo on weapons supporting the rebels, despite the UN's calls for caution.
Turkey was one of Syria's supporters before Assad opted for a violent resolution to the uprisings. Pre-Civil War, the Syria-Turkey relationship defined Turkey's Middle East politics as one of friendship and cooperation, with Turkey opting to assist Assad in reforming the country, but Turkey quickly turned to support the opposition when Assad began to crack down on the rebel forces. The country is now the headquarters for the leaders of opposition forces and funnels supplies to the rebel forces.
Turkey has also been affected by local terrorism and military posturing, exchanging shells with Syrian military forces, while having accepted almost 14,000 refugees into the country. Turkey has repeatedly readied itself for conflict with Syria and has placed Patriot missile systems on the border to defend against any potential Syrian attack.
3. Saudi Arabia and Qatar
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the two greatest supporters of the militants, but not with the intent of resolving the conflict. As a member of the Sunni branch of Islam, Saudi Arabia is using the conflict as a proxy war, hoping to weaken Shia Muslims such as the Assad government and its Iranian supporters. Qatar is working towards international recognition and becoming a major player in the Middle East, having sent similar aid to the Libyan rebels in their fight against Muammar Gaddafi.
Saudi Arabia is supporting moderate militants and hoping to avoid domestic fallout. The country's support for Osama bin Laden backfired when the Al-Qaeda leader declared the Saudi ruling family to be apostates. Qatar, on the other hand, has largely supported the more radical militants, creating divisions within the rebel groups, some of whom believe hostilities between the radical and moderate elements is inevitable.
Israel has been involved in Syria for more than a decade now, periodically flying over Syria or conducting air strikes, with two such attacks this year. The last strike occurred on May 5, against missiles being transported through Syria by Iran, meant for Lebanon. Syria's support for Hezbollah is the major issue, as Hezbollah is Israel's greatest regional enemy. Israeli air strikes against targets in Syria run the risk of retaliatory attacks, including biological and chemical weaponry.
There is also the risk of the Syrian Civil War spilling into Israeli territory. It was not an issue until recently, when rebels allegedly captured the sole crossing between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights region, with two mortar shells landing in Israeli territory.
I referenced Russia in my previous article on the Syrian conflict, noting its unwavering support for the Assad regime. Their support is such that the Russian embassy has been repeatedly targeted by rebel forces. Russia is continuing to supply the Assad government with weapons such as anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles, ostensibly to continue living up to its contractual obligations, signed before the war began. These weapons, of questionable value against a militant force lacking naval and air power, instead act as deterrents against external involvement against the Assad regime.
Russia's support has also been political, supporting the Syrian regime in the United Nations and decrying efforts by the Western world to support the militants. Most recently, Russia criticized the EU's decision to lift the arms embargo against the militant forces, and called for Iran to have a seat at the next round of negotiations for the resolution of the conflict.
Iran, connected to Syria by its state Shia religion, is another direct supporter of the Assad regime. Iran allegedly provides Assad with an area to train soldiers and paramilitary forces, such as the Abu Fadl al-Abbas brigade. The brigade is composed of Shia Muslims drawn to the conflict from nearby countries. Events such as the damaging of Shia religious buildings generate surges of support, funneling volunteers to the Syrian regime who are trained and introduced into the Syrian army.
Iran disputes the claims of its connections to the Syrian army, noting in the wake of recent military successes in Syria that "the Syrian government does not need Iranian fighters and weapons." It claims that these connections are fabrications to justify the lifting of the embargoes by the EU. Iran is also interested in taking part in the political resolution of the conflict, having shown significant interest in the next round of negotiations.