Many have argued in favor of as well as against the recent decision of the Obama administration to arm the Syrian rebels in an effort to topple the Assad regime. Those (myself included) who argued against the proposition of any direct U.S. military involvement in Syria were also hesitant of the option of arming the Syrian rebels not only because doing so ran counter to U.S. interests but also because any such move would further aggravate and exacerbate the current quagmire.
In the first blowback of the decision of the Obama administration to arm the Syrian rebels, Iran has decided to send 4,000 troops to Syria to fight for Bashar Al-Assad. The decision was taken last week prior to the election of the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iran is now fully committed to preserving Assad’s regime, according to pro-Iranian sources which have been deeply involved in the Islamic Republic’s security, even to the extent of proposing to open up a new "Syrian" front on the Golan Heights against Israel.
The Syrian opposition is now faced with three primary enemies; Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, the Lebanese Hezbollah and now a direct intervention from Iran. To make matters worse the Syrian opposition is extremely divided. There are between nine and 11 different opposition groups that together constitute the Syrian opposition. Other than a mutual hostility towards the Assad regime, these groups have almost nothing in common. They do not agree on religious ideology, on political ideology, or on what a post-Assad Syria will look like. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of the most effective and well-armed groups among the opposition, Al-Nusra, that openly declared its allegiance to Al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri, has recently been gaining recruits that are defecting from the Free Syrian Army (another main opposition group). There is little guarantee that U.S. arms will not eventually find their way to such extremist groups.
In addition, Assad’s forces have been doing fairly well on the ground recently. The Damascus regime’s victory this month in the central Syrian town of Qusayr, at the cost of Hezbollah lives as well as those of government forces, has thrown the Syrian revolution into turmoil, threatening to humiliate American and EU demands for Assad to abandon power.
As if realities on the ground on their own did not make the U.S. decision seem highly questionable, the utter devotion shown by Iran to the Assad regime by actually deciding to send in troops to fight leaves one with little hope of U.S. weapons helping the divided Syrian rebels managing a swift victory. In addition, as Hezbollah signals its intention to reduce its involvement in Syria, Iranian involvement will only increase. In the light of the U.S. decision there is also little hope of Russia reducing its clandestine support for the Assad regime against the largely Sunni rebels which it sees as a threat to its security.
On the other hand, America’s alliance now includes the wealthiest states of the Arab Gulf, the vast Sunni territories between Egypt and Morocco, as well as Turkey and the fragile British-created monarchy in Jordan.
With regional stakeholders preparing for greater involvement we could well be headed for a long and protracted proxy conflict. In a war that has already claimed approximately 93,000 lives, the increased interference of foreign elements is all set to worsen the situation. If things weren’t bad already, they could now possibly blow out of proportion. And it won’t take long.