Diplomats can continue issuing statements about how Assad should step down, but the Syrian Civil War was never really about Assad, it was an Islamic Holy War with Syria’s Sunnis and Shiites acting as proxy armies for Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey.
Anyone hoping that the fighting will end if Damascus falls is in for a surprise. It just means that the war will turn bloodier as Sunni and Shiite militias hammer away at each other.
The Baath Party in Iraq proved quite capable of launching an insurgency and insurgencies are easier and cheaper than winning wars. With Iranian and Hezbollah intervention aiding the Shiite militias, while Sunni Islamist militias engage in ethnic cleansing, the worst of the conflict may still be ahead.
And by the time it’s done, the Arab Spring will be a curse word.
A senior Obama administration official cited Iranian claims that Tehran was backing as many as 50,000 militiamen in Syria. “It’s a big operation,” the official said. “The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it’s important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on.”
Iran’s strategy, a senior Arab official agreed, has two tracks. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses.”
“Syria is basically disintegrating as a nation, similar to how Lebanon disintegrated in the ’70s to ethnic components, and as Iraq did,” said Paul Salem, director of the Beirut-based Middle East Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It’s going to be very hard to put Syria the nation back together.”
“We’re looking at a place which is sort of a zone, an area called Syria, with different powers,” Salem said.
Syria isn’t getting put together again. Not unless Assad wins. The Sunni Islamists are fighting for an Islamic state. And they will treat Shiites the way they are treating Christians in Egypt.