Bashar Al-Assad: Either Help the Sunnis Win in Syria, Or Risk a Global Sunni-Shiite Battle

As the conflict in Syria begins a new chapter with the White House's latest announcement that will aid the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) with light weaponry and potentially a no-fly zone, one concern is whether or not Iran and its proxy, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, will double down its support for President Bashar Al-Assad. It is well known by now that Hezbollah has held a presence in Syria early on, playing a role in targeting Sunni villages to clear the way for a potential Alawite-Shi’ite enclave ranging from Lattakia and Al-Assad’s hometown Al-Qardaha in Syria’s northern coastal-mountain region, down to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah’s stronghold. Soldiers seen carrying Hezbollah’s yellow banners have been reported to number in the thousands — thousands who have been instrumental in aiding Assad’s forces in fending off the opposition in key battlegrounds such as Al-Qusair in Homs, which is known to Syrians as the “capital of the revolution” but is better known to Assad’s axis as the central city closest to the Bekaa Valley. 

It is apparent that Hezbollah’s presence and zeal for supporting Assad has been contingent on the fact that President Obama has been repeatedly sending the signal that he was not willing to back up America’s red lines and was not committed to do what was necessary to produce victory for the opposition and save Syrian lives. Even with the White House’s announcement to plan for arming the FSA, it does not seem that this has really changed. For one thing, small-arms without anti-aircraft weaponry and a no-fly zone will not be enough to change the equation on the ground. Perhaps more importantly, Obama's decision is long, long overdue. Ignoring for one moment the fact that over 100,000 Syrians have been killed, cities such as Homs and Aleppo have been destroyed, and Syrian society has been irreparably torn on sectarian lines, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that Assad and his supporters both in the region, most frighteningly Iran, and in the global arena, especially Russia, along with the Syrian people, have seen too much hedging from President Obama. Be it moving his red line numerous times, pretending that the intelligence on chemical weapons use did not already exist, or failing to act decisively early on to alter the course of the civil war in a manner that could have kept Syria from being where it is today, it is clear that everyone invested in a positive outcome in Syria has been disappointed by the American president. On Friday, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah did indeed double down on his commitment to attain victory in Syria, when he vowed to back Assad at all costs. 

On the issue of sectarianism, one thing needs to be made clear: The Assad regime and its supporters have been systematic from Day One in playing the sectarian card by capitalizing on minority groups‘ fears and massacring Sunni villages in Alawite areas. For the opposition and those that we choose to lump in with the category we call “rebels,” including the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s proxy in Syria, when sectarian violence has been anecdotal at most, at least until more recently where prominent Sunni voices such as Egyptian cleric Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi have begun to define this conflict as a holy war and call for "jihad" in Syria.  

For every day that goes by, the hope for rebuilding Syria and dousing the flames of sectarianism that have reached Lebanon and Iraq grows slimmer. The arms package that the United States is offering the FSA is intended to somehow level the playing field against Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah intervention in order to bring the opposition to the negotiation table in Geneva. It is unrealistic that any peace will be brokered in Geneva, as that will primarily require a ceasefire, and that would imply that Assad and the FSA command possess control over all armed groups in Syria, a proposition that could not be further from the truth. The truth is that we need to commit to an FSA victory, even if that means we are supporting the Sunnis entirely. Separate from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood, are the Syrian people who have been fighting for freedom and couldn't care less which sect the person shelling their town or raping their women belongs to. The nuance belongs to the people and has belonged to the people who have a long history of coexisting with ethnic and religious diversity. The longer we allow this go on, the slimmer the chances are for Shi’ites and Sunnis to look for that nuance when all is said, done, and dead.