The vast majority of Syria’s population of 22 million are Sunnis with several minority sects; one of these is the Alawite Shias, which is the sect of the Al-Assad family.
With no end in sight to the ongoing bloody civil war, it would be insightful to identify the main protagonists in this human melodrama as well as their roles and their motives and to speculate on how this conflict would end:
1. The Al-Assad Family Regime: Bashar and his father Hafez Al-Assad have ruled Syria for the past 42 years. The father was a ruthless dictator, who killed tens of thousands of dissenters in cold blood. The son is following in his father’s path. The people want to get rid of the Al-Assads and return to civil rule, but so far this has been difficult to achieve because the Al-Assads put their minority Alawite allies in all key government positions; particularly defense. Then there are Iran and Russia, who are supporting the Al-Assad regime in pursuit of their own agendas.
2. Iran: Iran has two ambitions: The first is to realize its dream of having the Shiites become the leaders of Islam; consistent with their belief that their Imams are the true caliphs (successors) of the Prophet Mohammad; a claim that is vehemently rejected by the Sunnis who constitute the vast majority of Muslims. Its second ambition is to dominate the Middle East. With this in mind, Iran is sponsoring the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon and is supporting the Al-Assad regime in Syria to start creating a critical mass of supporters in the region; but this will not happen because the Arab League will be against it.
3. Russia: Russia has two strategic objectives in its support of Syria. The first is to maintain its last and only foothold in the Middle East. The second is to keep its naval military base in Tartus, Syria, which is the last naval facility Russia has outside the former Soviet Union. The Russian navy is based in the Black Sea with the Bosphorus Strait its only access to the open seas. The Bosphorus Strait is part of Turkey and most likely would be closed to Russia in times of war. Consequently Russia maintains a naval fleet in the Mediterranean where Tartus is needed to provide maintenance and supplies services.
4. Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is supporting the opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition mainly to counter Iran’s ambitions. Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two most holy Muslim shrines, which are located in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, thus to have anyone other than Saudi Arabia, especially Shiite Iran in control of these shrines is simply unthinkable. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s oil is located in the Eastern Province, which is across the Persian Gulf from Iran. This province is populated mostly by Shiites. There have been several incidents in the past of Iran’s intrusions there. Further escalation of such intrusions would cause serious implications for the country.
5. The Jihadists: Syria is now full of so called jihadists who are there to “defend Islam,” but from what? The true jihadists are those who were exhorted by God in the Quran to fight the heathens who wanted to expel the Prophet Mohammad from Mecca during the nascent days of Islam. The present day calls for jihad are from Imams who are pushing their personal agendas. In fact, King Abdullah (Saudi Arabia) ordered those Imams to stop their campaign of hostility. By the way, the words jihad, jihadist, mujahed, mujahideen, etc. are derived from the verb ‘jahada’ which simply means to do your best, to persevere; whether one is fighting the infidels or a kid doing his school work.
6. The United States: An assessment of the status quo in the Middle East shows why President Obama is loath to jump into the fray. For should he do that there would be a rapid polarization and escalation of hostilities: Iran would increase its financial aid to Syria, Hezbollah would send more volunteers to the front, Russia would send more military gear to Bashar’s regime and the jihadist would rejoice in piling hate on America and increasing their terrorist attacks in “defense of Islam.” And at the end of the day America would leave with nothing accomplished, while the Russian bear sits on the sidelines licking its chops at yet another American folly.
Subsequent to America’s postulated withdrawal, Iran will continue its intrusive activities, but their aforementioned dreams will never be realized and the split of Sunnis against Shiites as foreseen by some self proclaimed political gurus will never happen.
For Sunnis and Shiites prayed together, socialized together, fought together and worked together for the past thousand years and will continue to do so for the next thousand years.
So in the final analysis we must get out of the Middle East now (but leave a naval force nearby) and let the people there keep fighting it out until they achieve a true awakening.
Sid Bekowich is an Incline Village resident.