Syrian Conflict: No End In Sight

August 1, 2012

The United Nations has reported a significant escalation in Syria’s civil war: the country’s military has begun using warplanes to fire on the opposition rebellion.

Sausan Ghosheh, the spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Syria, said that international observers had witnessed warplanes firing in Aleppo (Syria’s largest city) where intense fighting has been raging for 12 days. Ghosheh said the situation in Aleppo was urgent, with “heavy use of heavy weapons” including tanks being used by both sides.

Calls on the United States and NATO to intervene in the conflict are being met in the West with trepidation.

The Syrian military’s defense mechanisms are sophisticated and located within major population centers. Removing those devices could cause mass civilian casualties. Furthermore, potential ethnic divisions within the country are severe.

There are possibly hundreds of opposition groups in Syria. Several of these groups consider themselves to be the incumbency for the opposition. These groups are not part of a larger monolithic whole; rather, they are  divergent ethnic groups that are antagonistic and even violent towards one another.

There is also a lot of concern within the Western intelligence community about who some of these various groups are aligned with. Some groups have ties with al-Qaeda and other jihadi organizations. One particular concern is the role that Hezbollah may be playing in the war.

Hezbollah is a Shi’a militant group. It has a paramilitary wing that is one of the stronger militant movements within the Middle East. Hezbollah has been a recipient of financial assistance from Syria for years, and what actions it is taking during the civil war is unclear. Hezbollah would be one actor that could stand in opposition to al-Qaeda (a Sunni organization).

Indeed, there are reports coming out of Syria that sectarian conflict, between Shi’a and Sunni groups as well as between tribes within those denominations, is erupting in the wake of conflict between opposition forces and the military.

The Syrian civil war is a very complicated contest.

Rebel opposition groups control very little in land or resources within Syria. Groups hold small swaths of land along the Turkish border, but scarce else.

Bottom line, this conflict has the potential to persist for quite some time.

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