Playing in Our Backyard

The civil war in Syria has now entered its third year, and the most interesting and important development that is taking place right before our eyes is that it has now become an international conflict. Syrians are being used as puppets by international powers, while the real victims are the Syrian civilians whose suffering is ignored at best, or cynically used, in other cases. The amazing fact, of course, is that these powers seem to have forgotten similar past ventures that ended up with surprising and disappointing results (e.g. CIA – Mujahideen – Afghanistan – Taliban).
The main actors in this specific game are Russia, Iran and Iraq on one side, and the U.S. and its European allies, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar – on the other. The means of influence are large weapon supplies, with the end-game being control over Syria after Assad collapses. Each side is rooting for a different faction: the “red” side is supporting the Shi’ite groups, and the “blue” side – the Sunni groups. Outwardly, all parties involved decry the violence and suffering, yet behind the scenes they continue to kindle the fire by pouring more and more weapons into Syria.
Iran is now in the process of establishing a Shi’ite militia, while I have already mentioned in a previous post the joint American, Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi effort to arm and train a Sunni militia. All this guarantees that even should Assad be toppled in the near future, we can rest assured that the fighting within Syria will last for many more years, for these groups will remain in place, well armed and experienced, looking for action.
So long as Assad remains in power, he is the perfect focal point for all militia activity. But as soon as he is no longer a viable target, the rules of the game become unclear, most likely meaning that anti-government violence will transform to sectarian fighting between militias and Jihadist groups. As has happened on so many other occasions in the past, a local issue is hijacked by external forces that inadvertently, or knowingly, prolong the conflict and exacerbate the violence. From Israel’s point of view, the only difference in this case is that the game is being held right in its backyard, with a huge stockpile of chemical weapons up for grabs.
Another clear and present danger is that this sectarian violence be turned towards Israel. Until now, Israel has wisely elected to avoid direct intervention in what is going on its own backyard, though there is no doubt that covertly, Israel is knee-deep in protecting its own interests – namely, the prevention of chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands, and bolstering its defenses on the border with Syria. This should remain Israel’s policy, so as not to appear supporting one faction or the other. Unless directly targeted, Israel should be careful not to attract the attention of the frenzied monster, while at the same time prepare for this very same outcome. Passover indeed.
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