It is a mistake to see the carnage in Syria simply as a civil war between a powerful Alawite governing sect and the long-oppressed Sunni majority. Tensions between these groups have been common for at least thirty years. Their conflict is one aspect of an ongoing clash between the Sunni and Shi’ite factions of Islam. Both sides are propped up, armed and advised by major power players, Iran and Saudi Arabia. A similar problem exists in Bahrain where a Sunni minority government has dealt severely with the Shi’ite majority. The recent rebellion of the Shi’ites in Bahrain was crushed by Saudi forces just as Assad is crushing the Sunni forces with the assistance of Iran. So much for the ‘Arab spring’.
Over and above these long rivalries is the re-emergence of the cold war competition between the US and Russia. The US has created tensions by its posting of military forces in the Middle East, particularly its naval depot in Dubai and its ring of anti-missile bases in countries bordering Russia. Russia has responded by maintaining close ties with the Assad regime, establishing its own naval base in Syria, escalating its trade and supplying weaponry to the Assad government.
Both Russia and US have engaged in inflammatory rhetoric in the Security Council of the United Nations. The Russians see the US’s efforts at regime change in areas under Russia’s influence as provocative actions failing to respect Russia’s position. Hence their increased backing of the military forces supporting the Alawite government. Both major powers and all their proxies are now in the position where any backdown is becoming less possible every day. God help the Syrians.
Don Brown, Bangalow