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Syria: Proxy Wars

A tweet I just read which noted the multiple proxy conflicts playing out in the midst of the Syrian civil war, made me realize just how many different parties and powers are facing off against each other there.  Some are using proxies.  Some represent their interests directly.

First, we have Assad and his allies: Iran, Hezbollah and Russia.  Then we have the Syrian rebels and their allies: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.  Let’s not leave out Israel which has no bone to pick with Assad, but which opposes Iran and Hezbollah.  That makes Israel, a party with a major military presence, a wild card.  Despite its false protestations to the contrary, it has intervened in the war, though only to interdict weapons shipments from Iran to Hezbollah.  But to muddy the waters a bit, it has also attacked advanced Russian arms being shipped via Syria, possibly to Hezbollah.

Israel has warned Assad that it would punish him severely if he attacks it in retaliation for IAF air attacks on these weapons shipments.  Israeli military sources have gone so far as to threaten to overturn his rule.  This is, of course, nonsense, what would Israel do?  Get rid of Assad and replace him with whom, with what?  The Syrian Chalabi?  The Syrian Falangist?  How many allies does Israel think it has among the Syrian opposition?  Of course, it could buy somebody off as it did with the South Lebanon Army, which served as Israel’s proxy in that country for a decade or more.  But that’s both an expensive proposition, and even less likely to work now than it did then in southern Lebanon.

The truth for Israel is that Assad is their man.  A guy made in its image.  Like Mubarak.  He maintained the peace in Sinai for decades.  He embargoed Hamas in Gaza.  He did Israel’s bidding without too much prompting.

Assad too holds back the Furies.  Up till now, he maintained a stable, relatively peaceful border in the Golan.  He was predictable and quiescent, except for his little nuclear escapade with the North Koreans.  So what will come after?  Le deluge.  The Nusra Front, Al Qaeda, Alawites, Sunnis.  All fighting for their slice of the territorial pie.  That could leave the country in a mess, much as Lebanon was during and long after its own civil war.  In such a situation, Syria poses a grave threat to Israel.  Instability could easily lead to development of a native Hezbollah style opposition.

On the other hand, Israel could play off the protagonists one against the other as it did between Fatah and Hamas after the latter first began; or as it did between the Maronites, Shiites, and Sunnis in Lebanon.  As long as there is a reasonable balance of power in Syria, and one ethnic group doesn’t overpower others, the resulting stalemate might force them to fight each other rather than Israel.  That’s why Daniel Pipes, in typically diabolical fashion for him, suggests that Israel support whichever side appears to be losing.  In his mind, the more the animals slaughter each other the less they’ll slaughter Jews.

Complicating this further are the various proxy standoffs among the parties: Russia against the U.S.  Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey against the Alawite Assad, who is backed by the Shiite Iranians.  It’s enough to make one dizzy.  But the end result of all of this ethnic fragmentation is an exceedingly dangerous situation.  Already 80,000 have died, 1.5-million are refugees.  In other similar ethnic wars in Rwanda, Serbia-Kosovo, Congo hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered.  Unless all parties aren’t exceedingly careful, this could be Syria’s future.

If you layer over this the larger war playing out between Israel and Iran, including their respective backers, the U.S. and Russia (again), this is a very high stakes game.  But unlike poker, there may be no winners.

A further instructive historical example might be the Spanish Civil War, in which Nazi Germany used Franco as its proxy while Soviet Russia and the international left used the Loyalists as their proxy.  In that conflict, the Nazis especially tested out their latest weapons systems, which would go on to “productive” use in the greater war that followed.  As that Civil War was a rehearsal for World War II, might Syria be a rehearsal for an even greater regional conflict to follow?  Let’s also not forget that this War presaged one of the greatest crimes in history, the Holocaust.  I don’t believe it can come anywhere near that in the Syrian conflict.  But the danger exists.

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • dickerson3870 May 19, 2013, 3:03 AM

    RE: “A tweet I just read which noted the multiple proxy conflicts playing out in the midst of the Syrian civil war, made me realize just how many different parties and powers are facing off against each other there. Some are using proxies. Some represent their interests directly.” ~ R.S.

    ● ALSO SEE: “Syria’s six simultaneous conflicts” ~ By Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star (Lebanon), 4/17/13
    LINK – http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Columnist/2013/Apr-17/213992-syrias-six-simultaneous-conflicts.ashx#axzz2Qn1vgeZi

    ● OTHER ARTICLES:

    • Saudi Arabia Sent Death Row Inmates to Fight in Syria in Lieu of Execution – http://www.aina.org/news/20130120160624.htm

    • Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood Propped Up by US Since 2007 Under Bush – http://landdestroyer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/syrias-muslim-brotherhood-propped-up-by.html

    • Iraeli Attack: Desperate Bid to Save Failed Syrian Campaign – http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2013/01/israeli-attack-desperate-bid-to-save.html

    • Hyping Hezbollah’s Role in Syria – http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/hyping-hezbollah%E2%80%99s-role-syria

    • In Shift, Saudis Are Said to Arm Rebels in Syria – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/world/middleeast/in-shift-saudis-are-said-to-arm-rebels-in-syria.html?pagewanted=all

    • The Oft-Predicted Fickle Syrian ‘Tipping Point’ Has Tipped – http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/01/the-oft-predicted-fickle-syrian-tipping-point-has-tipped/

    • Peace Plan Nixed: How the West Fueled the Ever-Growing Carnage in Syria – http://www.alternet.org/world/peace-plan-nixed-how-west-fueled-ever-growing-carnage-syria

    • Shipping Death and Destruction to Syria – http://english.al-akhbar.com/blogs/sharmine-narwani/shipping-death-and-destruction-syria

    • The Islamic Emirate of Syriastan – http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-01-120413.html

    • Belgian police raid homes in search for Syria recruiters – http://news.yahoo.com/belgian-police-raid-homes-search-syria-recruiters-103625933.html

    ● MANY, MANY MORE ARTICLES AT – https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_191521297543638

  • Nimrod May 19, 2013, 5:14 AM

    @Richard,
    I agree with your analysis, except for two remarks that you made
    1. when you said that Israel “has no bone to pick with Assad”.
    The proxy war between Israel and Syria did not start two years ago, and as you mentioned Hezbullah which is armed and supported by Syria since the 80′s, there are a few Palestinians Terror/paramilitary organizations based in Syria and supported by it.
    This is, off course, not a one sided story and Assad is right, in his point of view, to have a beef with Israel.

    2. I also think you’re incorrect regarding the remark you made about the South Lebanese Army.
    They were supported by Israel (or they would have been crushed by the PLO forces in 1982), but they followed their own agenda. common enemies brought them (Lebanese Christians) and Israel together.

  • Siusaidh May 19, 2013, 6:53 AM

    I feel you need to mention the hand of your own country in this multi-proxy war. It is, after all, the most powerful of all those involved.

    As for a holocaust – in terms of the total numbers of people killed, it is going on now. Your government says it will last at least another generation. And it should know.

    • Daniel May 19, 2013, 9:43 AM

      @ Siusaidh: As far as I can see, Mr Silverstein did mention America in the article.

      Furthermore, I don’t see the point in using the term “holocaust” here. Yes, what is happening in Syria is a tragedy of historic proportions — something for which foreign state actors opposed to Syria (including many of the perversely named “Friends of Syria”) are largely to blame — but it is a civil war. This is what happens in a civil war. Let’s try to maintain a reasonable perspective here. It is not “genocide” as some try to label it, or a “holocaust”; it is a brutal civil and proxy war, where both sides struggle for their very survival.

      As for its potential duration, I agree that it looks as though it could get very, very ugly indeed. Several analysts have pointed out the ghastly prospect of a Great War in the Middle East. The question is if Syria’s enemies really want to take it that far — and if they are any longer capable of stopping the monster they have unleashed.

      There don’t appear to be any clear scenarios of stability on the horizon, except possibly a decisive victory by Assad and the Alawites.

      • Siusaidh May 19, 2013, 9:52 AM

        By holocaust, I didn’t mean merely Syria, but the murders committed by the USA – not ‘America’, the USA – since it became the hegemonic power. And much worse is to come, possiily very soon.

        And I still think Richard did not emphasize near enough the role of the US. Hate to see Israel, a mere proxy, getting so much blame.

  • Daniel May 19, 2013, 9:51 AM

    Israel, ever the tease, has not lost its coquettish touch in dealing with these situations. See the Haaretz story below:

    “A Friday report in the Times of London, according to which Israel prefers the regime of Bashar Assad than see a takeover of the country by rebel Islamist militants, is untrue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a meeting of Likud ministers on Sunday.

    “The prime minister stressed that Israel is not intervening in the Syrian civil war and is not taking a position concerning who should rule the country.”

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/netanyahu-not-true-that-israel-prefers-assad-to-rebels-1.524764

  • jadez May 20, 2013, 5:40 AM

    israel has already made itself part of the conflict by its illegal bombings in Syria.

    in case no one has been paying attention Putin has decided he has seen enough.

    if!..israel is foolish enough to try to strike against syria again they will find themselves on the wrong side of a Russian retaliation that Putin may decide to go as far as destroying every single aircraft the israelis have.

    these are dangerous times for israel as the US will NOT intervene once Putin strikes back!

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