Globe: Another War in Syria

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Let’s see if this story arc seems familiar: in a region dominated by opposing powers, two or more nations compete against one another for superiority or survival. The rivalry begins as threats, but then soon escalates to espionage and covert fighting. This prompts the rising action. The threats and power-flexing leads to a series of crises. Eventually, the rivalry becomes more apparent – reginal conflicts soon become stages for proxy fighting between the rivals. Soon, there is a crisis that leads to a war.

What ensues is the climax of the story. A war erupts between multiple powers. Destruction dominates the landscape. Sometimes in these narratives, only tens of thousands die. Sometimes, it is tens of millions. After the climax comes the falling action: after a period of bloodshed, one power gains the upper hand. The superior power subjugates, dictates, or annihilates the losing power. Resolution: there is a period of peace before the narrative is repeated.

If this seems familiar, that is because it is the narrative of the almost innumerable number of conflicts that dominate modern history. It is a tired cycle, but it is one that seems to be repeating itself again. This time the setting is Syria, and the main characters are Israel and Iran.

Last Saturday the covert realm of the Israel-Iran conflict came into the light. According to Israeli authorities, Iran launched a drone into Israel – purportedly a replica of the US model shot down in Iran during the Obama administration. When detected, the Israeli Defense Forces shot down the drone and retaliated against Iran for there violation of Israeli sovereignty.

Israel launched an airstrike against Iranian military bases operating in Syria, and reported to have destroyed half of Syria’s anti-aircraft units – units likely provided by Russia. During the attack, an Israeli F-16 fighter jet was shot down. The aviators were able to eject with their lives.

This series of incidents comes after years of increasing tensions between Israel and Iran. Iran has been unapologetic in their disdain for the existence of Israel. Iran has shown this by covertly fighting Israel via terrorist proxy forces. Israel has also covertly combatted Iran though tactics such as the cyber-attack and other forms of espionage.

 While both powers have been open in challenging their opponents, the recent events will mark the beginning of an open confrontations between the two powers. Israel has vowed to retaliate against Iran if it continues to operate in Syria, while Iran has vowed to defend their power in the region. this would complete the evolution of the Syrian civil war from an insurrection to a regional conflict.

The Syrian civil war has provided a space where all the regional powers could pursue their interests. Iran, hoping to increase their hegemony and influence in the Arab world, backed the Assad regime. In their own attempt to increase power, Russia intervened in the Syrian war in 2015, an action considered to be a turning point in what was a stalemated conflict.

The US presence in that country was predicated on combating Islamic State militants terrorizing the Middle East and abroad. Sometimes the U.S. would act against the Assad regime, most notably when the regime launched a chemical weapons attack, but national policy on what side America is on changes with the mood of the president. Turkey has maintained a presence in Syria, though to attack Syria’s Kurdish population.

Israel’s role in the Syrian civil war has been limited to attacking militant groups, namely the Lebanese-based Hezbollah. Hezbollah has served as one of Iran’s most powerful proxy forces, and has supported the terrorist organization in its decades-long war against Israel. Because of Iran’s mastery over Hezbollah, the latter has fought in Syria on behalf of the regime. It is in Syria that Israel has bombed Hezbollah conveys heading of Lebanon, where Israel and Hezbollah have fought wars before.

Israel is not Iran’s only enemy in the region; Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE have expressed desire to combat Iranian influence. Rifts between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been particularly violent. As Israel is becoming more open about combating Iran in Syria, Saudi Arabia has already fought Iranian influence in Yemen’s civil war – one that includes reckless bombings and a blockade that prevents Yemenis from receiving basic humanitarian aid.

Missiles launched from Yemen into Saudi Arabia have prompted the Saudi monarchy to declare such actions done by Iranian proxies to be declaration of war by Iran on Saudi Arabia. Saudi-Iranian hostility has bee apparent elsewhere. After Saudi Arabia executed a Shia cleric, Iran and Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic ties.

It would seem that the preliminary boxes for another story arc of a regional war are being checked off again.

The narrative has a setting: a horrific civil war surrounded by the most unstable region in the world. Opposing characters include Iran, a Shia dictatorship seeking to control the region. On the other side is Israel, of which Iran has vowed to annihilate, and the Arab Gulf monarchies.

The rising action has already occurred; after years of promises to Iranian annihilation of Israel, and years of the two states fighting proxy conflicts, the competing powers to becoming less covert in their confrontation. The Arab-Iranian aspect has seen a similar development.

Now, midpoint in rising action, will the future of the Middle East be decided. It is too early to tell if more crises occur leading to an inevitable regional war, or will tensions settle and the recent crisis be largely forgotten – at least for now. If the former is true, as the civil war in Syria turns toward the desires of the Assad regime, Syria might once again be a warzone – albeit for a larger, and potentially more catastrophic war.