Syrian rebels have been fighting Bashar Assad's regime for nearly a year and a half in a conflict that has caused 20,000 deaths. Atrocities characterized as crimes against humanity have been perpetrated against the Syrians by their own government. As the world watches in horror, much confusion remains about the nature of the rebel troops, the identity of the regime's supporters, and which actions, if any, should be taken by the rest of the world.
The Syrian rebels represent a range of interests. Most are Sunni Muslims that had been shut out of power under the current Shi'a Alawite regime. They include Muslim Brotherhood members, along with the more recent mix of al Qaeda supporters. The Syrian regime is supported by middle class and wealthy Syrians, Shi'a Alawites, and Christians, constituting nearly half of the population.
Syria has become the battleground for disparate forces with vastly differing goals. While it is likely that the Syrian regime will be toppled soon, no one really knows what will happen afterwards. The best guess is that the killings will continue as these disparate groups continue to fight for power.
While these internal forces are deadly, the external forces in this fight provide even graver complications. The fight against the Syrian regime is marred by a host of self-serving sharks that helped fuel and steer the Syrians legitimate fight against a cruel, corrupt and dictatorial regime into their interest in order to weaken Syria in general and to make Syria compliant to their policy. While the U.S. and its allies were quick to declare that Assad must go, the rebels have committed extreme atrocities against regime forces and their supporters that cast a grave doubt to their moral cause. The regime-protected minorities perceive the conflict as a fight for their lives. The outside interference has helped to increase the catastrophe for the Syrian people.
The United States and its allies are providing covert operations through ground operations at the Turkish border with Syria. Turkey's interest is to ensure that the Kurds living in Syria and Iraq do not foment more discontent among the fourteen million Kurds in Turkey. The purpose of U.S. forces is to establish command and control to the rebels to distribute arms and materials to the right forces and to ensure a pro-Western regime in Syria that will be friendly to U.S. interests and our allies in the region.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are supporting the Syrian Sunni rebels with tens of millions of dollars for weapons gladly funneled by intermediaries of the Western powers such as Turkey. The Sunnis are fighting against the Shia and fomenting sectarian war. While hands are wrung over a simplistic story of a nasty regime and people rising to fight for their freedom, the more complex story of the fueling, once again, of sectarian strife by internal and external forces in the Middle East is barely covered. In public there is little to no discourse about our allies fueling a sectarian war in the Middle East. Instead, the blood baths of sectarian violence are used to help us thump our chests at a regime we do not like while trumpeting our values of freedom and democracy. Our Iraq policy created sectarian divisions resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. Continuing our falsely posturing policy into Syria only underscores the appearance of a deadly and devious policy that reminds the inhabitants of the region that we are not to be trusted.
Yet the U.S. and its allies are also acting in response to the meddling of others hoping to benefit from propping up the regime. The Iranians are supporting Assad and his regime since it is in their best interest to maintain a foothold near Israel and increase their influence over the Middle East. The Lebanese are caught in the middle, trying to avoid a spillage of the sectarian war in Syria into their country with the dark memory of their own fifteen year civil war that ended two decades ago.
Israel, at first, did not want any instability in Syria as long as Assad's regime kept peace with Israel as they did for decades. With Assad's eventual overthrow, and the chaotic rebellion next door, Israelis are working to secure Syrian stock piles of chemical weapons to prevent them from being taken by terrorists as well securing political ambitions in the area. These actions are stirring the pot in a bubbling Middle East, so much so, that prominent Israelis are speaking out. The Israeli army chief announced that Syria's chemical stock pile is totally under the control of the Syrian government; other Israeli officials have discouraged Israeli ambitions in Syria and Iran. Nevertheless, many see Israel's ultimate goal as the unchallenged super power in the Middle East. And while Israel possesses over two hundred nuclear bombs, chemical and biological weapons, their complaints about the enrichment programs of other Middle Eastern countries sounds hollow to many nations. While Israel has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and the chemical weapons ban, they want to deny others the use of these weapons.
Syria is on the road to a prolonged bloody civil war that could engulf the region. The Assad regime will be part of the civil war whether Assad leads it or not. The West and its allies in the region have tried to avoid playing an ugly role in this bloodshed, but the pressures in and out of Syria are leading us to begin a descent into unconscionable interference. There is still time for the West and the rebels to avoid falling into the same abyss as Assad. To establishing a more just and peaceful society in Syria, the United Nations should pass a resolution to stop or curtail the weapons for sectarian groups and refer all atrocities from any side to the International Court of Justice. Moreover, the U.N. can call for a conference of all sides in Syria. At this stage of the conflict, the goal should be to negotiate to stop the killing and find a peaceful resolution.
The world community has to act quickly to influence the direction of Syria's civil war. Otherwise, playing the game of bleeding Syria to death so they can enjoy the remnant carcass is a dangerous game for the region that might not be manageable.