The world has its eyes firmly set on the Syrian Civil War; a future settlement for the region is far from established. The dispute from world powers over Assad’s future is largely the cause of this indecision; the US and NATO want him gone, while Russia and China want him to stay. The longer it takes for world powers to come to an agreement, the more the carnage will go unabated.
There is much more to consider than this however. I’m certain that many, like myself, see the flaws of this single-minded focus on regime change. The narrative we hear seems to be ‘once Assad is toppled and Syria is partitioned, and once ISIS is destroyed, then everything will be peaceful’, or something to that effect.
Sadly, there is an eerie silence over the future of the region after a new settlement is agreed upon (whether or not Assad goes). This is a recipe for disaster. Power-hungry factions will still exist; radical Islam will not be destroyed (as the failed ‘war on terror’ has shown us); and millions of displaced and poverty-stricken people will be yearning for a purpose, or some kind of salvation (one that has been delivered in the ranks of an extremist faction).
Worst of all, both sides seemed to turn a blind eye to those who are stoking the conflict — such as Iran, along with Saudi Arabia and its allies in the gulf region.
While the conflict initially started as nationwide protests against the Assad government in 2011, it evolved into something much more fatal and destructive. Neighbouring regions took a decision to support different factions, or to come to the rescue of the Assad regime. With Iraq being in a similar predicament, the conflict soon spilt over the border — such as with ISIS (formerly ISI) spreading its terror into Syria.
With the Assad regime losing its grasp over the country, sectarian violence has been enabled to flourish. Like a shark getting a whiff of blood, they have become incensed by the possibility of power, and will be hard to subdue. And as long as they continue to receive external support, there will be conflict regardless of new borders in the future.
After all, Saudi Arabia and its gulf allies give financial and military aid to Sunni militias, including more radical anti-Assad coalitions like Jaish al-Fatah; while Iran backs Shia militias in Iraq, sends it own IRGC forces into Syria, and props up Hezbollah — all with the aim of solidifying a pro-Iran structure from Lebanon to Iraq. Yet both sides support conflicting factions, and have become engaged in a ‘cold war’ with one another, in a bid for regional hegemony. With this in mind, it’s not hard to imagine the futility of forming a new settlement in the region.
And we could say responsibility for dealing with this rests on the shoulders of Western powers, particularly the US. Ever since last summer’s p5+1 deal, Iran has received over $100 billion after sanctions were lifted, and much of this has been spent in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, the US has guaranteed protection and arms to Saudi Arabia and its neighbours, in exchange for oil. It’s clearly imperative that the US takes a firmer stance on these nations, rather than just focusing on the future of Syria.
So it’s evidently meaningless to simply ponder over future borders, and the fighting within Syria alone. As long as Wahhabism remains powerful in the Middle East, and Iran wants to expand its radical Shiite ideology across the region, there will always be conflict, no matter the future of Assad. Yet it would be wrong to call it a purely ideological conflict; both have political aspirations, to strengthen their own hold over the Middle East.
As a force that has empowered both sides, the West can assume some form of responsibility in stemming this. While bringing both sides around the table might make some minor changes, removing military support would be a way of ridding moral culpability in this conflict, which has caused much bloodshed and destruction; and will continue to do so, until the main causes of it are addressed more sternly.
This article was originally published in the Times of Israel.