By Mark Wachtler
May 21, 2013. Damascus. (ONN) For two years, the Syrian civil war has remained an internal national struggle. But as the world’s superpowers slowly intervened, the struggle and its root motives were eclipsed by global politics. Now, with neighbors like Israel and Lebanon taking an active fighting roll, the war has escalated again. As soon as the battle crosses either country’s borders, it will officially be a regional war. Syria watchers are expecting it any day now.
Syrian rebels have slowly taken over roughly half of the country.
From protests to war
The Syrian civil war began two years ago as a peaceful, grassroots political protest against Syria’s Assad dynasty and its repressive government. Much like the peoples’ uprising in Egypt the year before, hundreds of different Syrian organizations came together to demand the ouster of President Assad. As the protests spread across the country, the Syrian Army used military force to suppress the widespread demonstrations.
Slowly but surely, and with the help of the US and UK, the Syrian protesters became the Syrian rebels before finally morphing into the Free Syrian Army. Made up of hundreds of small groups, many of which hate each other, the Syrian rebels have fought government forces to a stand-still. But not before rebel forces swept eastward across the country, and westward to the Mediterranean Sea. With its seaport supply routes now blocked, the Assad regime has escalated its counter-offensive and the civil war itself.
Already, 80,000 Syrians have died in the civil war and an estimated 1.4 million have fled the country. One reason for the high casualty rate is the fact that the nation’s two warring sides aren’t separated geographically. Rebels and loyalists are fighting in every city and every small town. Reminiscent of Richmond and Washington in America’s own civil war, the rebel capitol in Homs is virtually right next door to the government’s capitol of Damascus.
And with government forces desperately needing to open a road to the sea, one that doesn’t run through neighboring Lebanon, the only road available goes right through the rebel stronghold of Homs. With a major Syrian loyalist offensive underway, foreign powers are quickly escalating their involvement to help tip the scales in what could be the civil war’s final battle.
Almost immediately, global and neighboring powers began lining up on both sides of the Syrian civil war. The majority Sunni Muslim rebels forged alliances with the US, UK, France, and even Islamic jihadists like al Qaeda. The Syrian government, loyal to President Assad and majority Shiite and Christian, reaffirmed alliances with Russia, Iran, Lebanon and even Israel, who valued a non-confrontational Assad government over an unknown quantity in the rebel forces.
First, each side’s backers only entered the picture to insure the other side didn’t bring in outside forces. Since then however, both the rebels and the government have used foreign fighters, militias, spy agencies, and supplies. What hasn’t entered the picture, until just recently, are foreign armies. When Israel entered the war militarily two weeks ago, followed immediately by Lebanon’s Hezbollah this weekend, the civil war suddenly became regional.
For its part, Israel insists it isn’t taking sides in the civil war, but instead stopping Hezbollah from acquiring mid-range Russian and Iranian-made missiles. Three times in recent weeks, Israel has launched air attacks on Syrian facilities claiming to be blowing up missile shipments destined for Hezbollah’s forces in Lebanon. But critics insist the Jewish state is tipping the scales of war in favor of the US-backed rebels.
Israeli officials argue they are stopping the scales from being tipped. Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was quoted warning Russia saying, “These are not just any weapons, they are tie-breakers, and that's why there is a responsibility with all world powers, certainly Russia, not to supply such arms."
Even the Jerusalem Post questioned Israel’s decision to enter the Syrian civil war. Writing prior to Hezbollah’s entering the fight, the publication wrote, ‘With what could be reportedly ongoing Israeli bombardments of Syrian territory for the entire world to see, it is now hard to fathom that Syria and Hezbollah would allow for much more loss of face before responding.’
Since Israel launched its attacks against Syria, international critics have accused the Netanyahu regime of not only aiding the rebels, but of staging chemical weapons attacks while posing as Syrian government forces. Two weeks ago, BBC quoted a UN Commissioner writing, ‘Carla Del Ponte told Swiss TV that there were "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof".’ Del Ponte went on to say, "I was a little bit stupefied by the first indication of the use of nerve gas by the opposition."
Adding fuel to the accusations of Israeli use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria, Haaretz published quotes from former US officials suggesting that the Jewish state was possibly responsible for the chemical attacks. The publication quoted the Chief of Staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powel suggesting that the recent detection of chemical weapons used on rebel soldiers was actually an Israeli Mossad “false flag” operation intended to swing world support to the rebels.
Hezbollah enters the fight
With its main forces located in neighboring Lebanon, Hezbollah has thus far remained out of the Syrian civil war. It hasn’t even used the distraction to attack Israel or retaliate for the Israeli airstrikes. But this weekend, Hezbollah fighters finally entered the war, using its soldiers in house to house and street-level fighting to take back towns surrounding the rebel base of Homs.
As detailed by Reuters, the sudden government counter-offensive this weekend involved a large force of Hezbollah fighters. Local officials report that 30 of their soldiers were killed in Sunday’s fighting alongside 20 fatalities among their allies in the Syrian Army. There were no reports of rebel casualties. Local sources confirmed that the sudden offensive by government forces pushed rebel fighters back. But after a full day of fighting, the rebels have stopped the government’s advance and both sides are awaiting reinforcements to up the pressure.
Israel’s involvement in the Syrian civil war hasn’t only been responsible for bringing Hezbollah into the fight, it’s also caused reactions from other countries and national leaders. Syrian President Assad warned Israel that it had endured three Israeli airstrikes but would not tolerate a fourth. He then realigned his country’s long-range missiles, locking them onto Tel Aviv in a public display of what Syria’s response would be. In Russia, officials announced the sale of advanced S-300 air-defense missiles to Syria over the objections of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
With both the Syrian rebels and the Syrian government forces seemingly at equal strengths, it will be up to foreign intervention to decide the winner of the Syrian civil war. And with that realization, countries like the US, UK, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia and Israel will most-likely step up their involvement in the coming weeks. One thing’s for certain, once the fighting spills across Syria’s borders into Israel or Lebanon, all bets are off. Anything could happen, including World War 3.
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