Bashar Al-Assad: Why Russia and Hezbollah Are Rushing to Syria's Aid

With every passing day the Syrian civil war is resulting in more death, but creating less hope for any future peace. Some 80,000 lives have already been lost during the conflict and it seems the war is only starting to take shape. But why are some countries still standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even after all the atrocities perpetrated within the borders of "his" country? It is vital to again look into the factors that have resulted in Russia and Hezbollah coming to the aid of al-Assad's regime during this bloody two-year conflict.

Hezbollah militants have been fighting alongside Assad's regime against the rebels throughout the conflict. Hezbollah's allegiance is one of ideological alliance. Syrian-Israeli relations have always been shaky since the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, but the two countries have for the most part kept stable communications. But once the Sunni rebels started their campaign to overthrow al-Assad, the Shi'a Hezbollah militants took it upon themselves to prevent another creation of a Sunni-dominated country in the region. The Alawites, the minority Muslim sect that dominates Assad's regime, are an offshoot of Shi'a Islam, which immediately binds Hezbollah to ally with al-Assad. Furthermore, Iran, one of the closest supporters of Hezbollah's operations, is a country that declares Shi'a as the state religion. All three countries need each other in the region to fend off the overly-dominant Sunni sects and the ever-present influence of Israel. Iran needs Syria to supply Hezbollah with weapons so the militia can attack Israel, a historic ally of the United States. Hezbollah needs al-Assad to stay in power as to continue the inflow of supplies and to depend on his future regime to prevent further Israeli influence in the region. And al-Assad obviously needs as many allies as possible to prevent an overthrow and the formation of a Sunni-dominated government.

But more importantly, we need to understand Russia's role in supporting al-Assad. One obvious answer is that the current Syrian regime is vital because it buys Russian arms: $15 billion's worth in 2012 alone. Additionally, the possible physical backlash if al-Assad falls is on the minds of Russian politicians. The Syrian port of Tartus is an important base for Russia's Mediterranean Fleet and approximately 30,000 Russians live inside Syria. Do these factor into Russia's interest in the war's outcome? Yes, but they are not the defining reasons.

Russia's S-300 missile system, which recently began being distributed to Syrian militay units in support of al-Assad's cause, is not being transferred to Syria because Russia has immediate interest in making money or keeping a presence in Syria. Rather, it is to hinder any sort of Western initiative. Ever since Putin became a political powerhouse in Russia he has emphasized a new nationalist movement to bring Russia back to its glorious "Great Power" status. Russia has been very critical towards Western intervention, especially with regards to U.S. involvement, whether it be Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya. Putin's goal is to create another power struggle between the West and East, and the Middle-East has become his chosen battlefield with the Western entities. With recent domestic turmoil in Turkey, America's only stable ally in the region, it may very well become inevitable that the U.S. takes a decisive role in the Syrian War to prevent an unraveling of the current world balance.

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Almir Hodzic

Currently studying at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs with a focus on security and intelligence studies. Received his undergraduate degrees in International Relations and in History from the Pennsylvania State University. Interests include security threats, minority rights, transitional justice, and democratic progress in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Native speaker of the Serbo-Croatian language and studying Russian in college.

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