The longer it lasts, and the deeper it becomes entrenched, the more the civil war in Syria is destabilizing the entire Middle Eastern region. Indeed, the front is now spreading beyond the country’s borders. It would be desirable to end this conflict in as stable a way as possible, but it does not appear that events are going to yield a reasonable solution.
The Al-Assad regime is exploiting its Alawite (a branch of Shiite Islam) connections to widen the front into Lebanon, another land that has a delicate and precarious ethnic mosaic. Recent times have seen a proliferation of murders and kidnappings of Syrian opposition figures living in the country, and of clashes between groups. But for the moment, the armed Shiite party Hezbollah, a powerful force in Lebanon, seems to be keeping a cool head, fearful of a general conflagration.
The United Nations warns that the situation in Lebanon — where an important contingent of Spanish forces is deployed — is “ever more precarious.” Air strikes by Syrian planes in Iraqi territory are also becoming more frequent. It is unlikely that Iraq, now dominated by a Shiite majority, will respond, for it is also apprehensive of the Sunnis coming to power in Damascus.
The fall of Al-Assad is now being proclaimed as inevitable, and this may indeed be the outcome, but the situation is so unstable that no one is capable of predicting what is going to happen until it does.
In spite of the desertions of top political and military figures, and ongoing rebel attacks, the armed forces of the regime are still fairly intact.
Nothing indicates or ensures — quite to the contrary rather — that the collapse of the regime would lead to a level-headed, orderly transition to a more democratic form of government, given the tensions between diverse ethnic groups in the country, and the penetration of foreign and jihadist elements.
In distinction to the Syrian political opposition, no one really knows who the rebels are, except that some of them have been establishing sharia (Islamic law) in the territories that have come under their control. In such a situation, the matter of into whose hands Syrian chemical weapons may fall is obviously of great concern.
An international military intervention is not possible at the present time, due to the difficulties on the ground, and because Russia and China are vetoing any such agreement in the UN Security Council. France is talking of establishing a no-fly zone, which would be more than justified for humanitarian reasons. Meanwhile the bloodletting goes on, with hundreds of civilians dying at the hands of the regime in an outlying district of Damascus in recent days. The international community must do everything possible — not, at this stage of the game, to prevent disaster, but at least to properly deal with the problem.