Escalating Interventions in Syria and the Prospects of Unity

Photo Credit: warnewsupdates.blogspot[1]

By: Jacob Pester

The conflict in Syria has been taking its toll on the Syrian people and their neighbors for over two years now. The United States, European Union, and the Arab League have been constantly struggling with whether or not to intervene, and to what extent. Yet, interventions have already been taking place ever since the beginning of this conflict, and they have steadily increased during the last few months. Furthermore, the strategic alliances that are battling to achieve their ends in this conflict are constantly shifting the scope and identity of this conflict. Indeed, recent developments put into question whether or not large scale humanitarian or military interventions can succeed in Syria. Furthermore, these developments put into question two of our most fundamental understandings as to this conflict; that this conflict is simply between the Assad government and its people, and that the desired outcome of this conflict is an Assad Free democratic state.

Demographics: An Introduction

The nature of this conflict from a Western perspective has often been shaped by the manner in which the media has portrayed it. Indeed, despite mentions of the ethnic and religious mess that is Syria and its Civil War, the true extents and dimensions of this conflict are routinely ill defined. Therefore, to the average observer the Syrian Civil War is seen as between two forces, those that are pro-Assad and those that are pro-opposition (the Free Syrian Army more specifically). Yet, this characterization is fundamentally flawed and avoids the larger picture.

The main ethnic communities in Syria include Sunni Muslims, Sunni Kurds, Palestinians (Muslim and Christian), Armenians, Druze, Shiites, and Arab non-Palestinian Christians. These varied ethnic groups are characterized within this broader conflict by two essential ideas. First, that their alliance to one side or another is at times ambiguous, even within the Alawite and Sunni-Arab communities. Secondly, that the desired outcome of this conflict varies greatly from one group to another. While the majority of these groups desire the status quo, both the Kurds and Sunni Muslims, which stand for around 64% of the population, view Syria as incapable of reverting to its prior state.[2] Yet, even between these two large ethnic groups there is a stark difference on the desired outcome of the conflict. For instance, the Kurds have already forwarded their hopes of an autonomous North East Kurdish region while the Sunni opposition forces desire the entirety of Syria under its control.[3]

The Silent Intervention:

While the international community hesitates at taking action in Syria, and while the scope of Western intervention in Syria is limited, other states from across the region have already declared intervention as necessary both for humanitarian and strategic purposes. Foremost among these interventions has been the increased role Iraqi Kurdistan has played in the North East. Iraqi Kurdistan has supplied weapons and advice to its Kurdish counterparts in Syria as well as training bases within Iraq.[4]  Ironically, this has frustrated the Shiite lead government of Iraq, as well as Turkey and Iran who fear instability in their own Kurdish regions.

On its part, the Shiite led government of Iraq, although officially standing on neutrality in the conflict, has seen it hard to not tacitly support Assad. They have allowed Iran to transfer weapons through their territory and have strongly condemned and opposed the Free Syrian Army.[5] Two recent events highlight the conflict between the Iraqi government and the Free Syrian Army more strongly than any other action to date. First, the Syrian opposition attacked a convoy of Iraqi troops who were escorting unarmed Syrian troops back into Syria after they were pushed out by rebel forces.[6] Second, while reinforcing the border with Syria and speaking against the Syrian opposition, the Iraqi army actively shelled rebel positions in Syria.[7] These two events were also strongly influenced by the active cooperation between the Free Syrian Army and Sunni extremist groups in Iraq.

Yet, Iraq is not the only regional state to increase its activity in Syria. In Iran, support of the Assad regime has not dwindled, and weapons are being shipped to the regime in record volumes as evident by recent apprehensions of such shipments in Egypt and Turkey.[8] Hezbollah has also increased its activity in the region reinforcing its troops in North West Syria to protect Shiite strongholds and actively fighting the opposition.[9] However, Hezbollah’s increased activity on the ground has drawn the wrath of the “Freedom Fighters”, who have in turn actively attacked Hezbollah positions in North West Syria and even in Lebanon itself.[10]

To the north, Turkey and Armenia have also played an important role in Syria. Turkey, who has taken from the onset of this conflict an anti-Assad position, has alongside Qatar and Saudi Arabia assisted the opposition with training and weapons. It has also come into conflict with Iraqi Kurdistan as it wishes an end to Kurdish desires for autonomy in Syria.[11] The Armenian government on its half has sought to protect Armenians in Syria through humanitarian efforts as well as the creation of temporary solutions for the Armenians that have fled to Armenia proper.[12]

On the Israeli and Palestinian fronts there has also been increased activity as of late. [BG1] Israel has intensified its retaliatory strikes against Syrian positions, whether government or opposition, that have shelled Israeli territory. Furthermore, the Druze of the Golan Heights as well as other parts of Israel have joined the fighting in Syria, predominantly supporting the Assad regime.[13] Israel, much like Iraq and Lebanon, has feared an opposition led Syria and has covertly acted within Syria for months now.[14] In Gaza, unlike the silence of the PLO in the West Bank, Hamas has actively sought to influence the Civil War against Assad. It has not only spoken against Assad and allowed mass rallies but has also trained rebels in Damascus.[15] This is especially consequential as most training of rebels, mainly by Jordan but also elsewhere, has taken place outside of Syria.

Where Does this Leave Us?

From an observer’s point of view, it would seem many recent events have had drastic effects on the conflict in Syria, constantly reshaping geopolitical positions and desires. From a US and Western interventionist perspective, the recent developments alongside public opinion in the Middle East strongly put into question their current approach of arming and supporting the rebels as well as any thoughts on large scale military intervention in Syria. It would seem the only regional states interested in large scale intervention and complete support of the Sunni opposition forces would be those least affected by the outcome, as exemplified by the Gulf States.

On the other hand, no country has truly promoted the end goal of sustaining the least possible amount of casualties in this conflict. Iran has been solely concerned with sustaining its power base while both it and Turkey have sought to not allow the Kurds to attain too much power. Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon are simply interested in their border security. Jordan, although taking an honest humanitarian approach, is mostly concerned with its inner political and economic stability. Armenia is perhaps the only country taking an uncorrupted approach towards the conflict, but indeed much like the Druze in Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, their prime concern is the well-being of their people and not the people of Syria as a whole.

It is near impossible to expect any state to act outside of its interests, and therefore intervention, on any scale must be seen alongside its biases. An international force should not enter into this conflict without understanding the outcomes. Furthermore, the pitting of Turkey against Iraq and Iran could have drastic effects on the region especially for US desires of reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. A victorious opposition will no doubt maintain its hostilities towards Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon which may further destabilize an already fragile region.

What the aim should be for the international community is to understand the complexity of the conflict at its current state, and the needs of each community in Syria. Some, such as the Druze leader of Lebanon Walid Jumblatt, may think that opposition rule would not jeopardize minorities, but the atrocities committed by the opposition and their public assertions signal otherwise.[16] The Kurdish example in the North East is ideal as to how this conflict should be mitigated. Although the Kurds have the luxury of maintaining an ethnically consolidated region there is still much that can be drawn from this example. Indeed, ethnic territorial division was in some manner echoed in a recent meeting in Shanghai in which the major world powers, including rumored US representatives, echoed the need for a reevaluation of this conflict and the international approach to it.[17]

Another possibility is to further strengthen the UN force in the Syrian Golan Heights. Not only will this offer protection for the Druze and Christians of the area but would also allow others to take refuge within Syria as opposed to outside of it. For the rest of the Syrian territory resolving this conflict is quite complex. Negotiations need to be further sought between Alawite and Sunni forces. Also, as opposed to many other thinkers on the matter, the consolidation of the Syria as a state should play a second priority to ethnic security. Yet, despite the need for an honest and constructive approach to the Syrian conflict and its peoples plight, what is for certain, is that furthering ones geopolitical standings at the expense of the Syrian people will not die down anytime soon.



Jacob Pester is a Master of International Affairs candidate at the Penn State School of International Affairs. He received a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University focusing on Middle Eastern affairs. As a researcher on Middle Eastern affairs he has written various articles dealing with politics and society in Israel and the region as a whole. He is fluent in Hebrew and knowledgeable in Arabic, and he has held various positions dealing with governmental policy and international diplomacy.


[2] Kaplan Seth, “Syria’s Ethnic and Religious Divisions”,  (February 2012).

[3]Dehghanpisheh Babak, “In Syria, role of Kurds divides opposition”, (August 2012).

[4]Spyer Jonathan, “Amid Syria’s Atrocities, Kurds Scratch out a Home”, (April 2013).

[5] Charbonneau Louis, “Exclusive: Western report – Iran ships arms, personnel to Syria via Iraq”, (September 2012).

[6] Adnan and Gladstone, “Massacre of Syrian Soldiers in Iraq Raises Risk of Widening Conflict”, (March 2013).

[7] Elahi Siddiqui, “Syria Civil War: U.S.-Backed Iraq Government Attacks U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels “,–backed-iraq-government-attacks-u-s–backed-syrian-rebels (April 2013).

[8] Staff, “Turkey: We have confiscated thousands of weapons on their way to Syria”,, (March 2013).

[9] Morris Loveday, “Hezbollah Crosses Syrian Border with Bloody Assault on Assad’s Enemies”, (October 2012).

[10] Avi Issacharoff, “For the First Time Syrian Rebels Bombarded Hezbollah Positions”,, (February 2013).

[11] A.Z, “A third party joins the fray”, (November 2012).

[12] Malek Alia, “Armenians Fleeing Anew as Syria Erupts in Battle”, (December 2012).

[13] Staff, “Hundreds of Israeli Druze said anxious to join the fight against rebels in Syria”, (March 2013).

[14]Staff, “Israeli Naval Seals Committed a Daring Raid in Syrian Territory”, (March 2013).

[16] SÖYLEMEZ HAŞİM, “Druze leader claims Syria crisis could cause Israel to expel its Arabs”, (September 2012).

[17] SÖYLEMEZ HAŞİM, “Druze leader claims Syria crisis could cause Israel to expel its Arabs”, (September 2012).

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