The Raging Middle East War - Who Are the Players and How Can It Be Stopped?
U.S. senior officials are calling for a no-fly zone in Syria. The Europeans say they may begin funding and arming the Sunni rebels to help in the fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Russia is ignoring protests by America and Israel in its quest to deliver S-300 advanced weapons systems to the Syrian regime. And, the war in Syria is spilling over into Lebanon as Sunni rebels attack Hezbollah strongholds.
These are some of the recent headlines in the media. But, in reality, the White House continues to sit passively while the bloody war in Syria rages on. Britain and France talk about the possibility of providing a small amount of arms to the Sunni rebels in Syria, which at this moment won’t do much to help them win the war. Though Russia insists on delivering the advanced weapons to Syria they actually haven’t done so yet. And, the Sunnis are calling on jihadists (especially in Egypt) to wage war against Shiite Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, the bloody battle over Syria continues to escalate with more than 80,000 people dead and at least 1.5 million displaced throughout the Middle East.
What began as demonstrations by the Syrian people against their own government has now turned into a raging fight over who will control the land of Syria – the Shiites or the Sunnis.
Israel does not want to get involved in this war as leaders in Jerusalem admit that they see both the Shiites and the Sunnis as enemies of the Jewish State. But, Israel will also not allow the balance of power to tip in the region. Israeli defense officials have warned Russian leaders that if they deliver the S-300 weapons to Syria it will be a “game changer”. Israeli officials believe that these weapons getting into the hands of Assad, the Sunni rebels, or Hezbollah, would hurt Israel’s ability to defend itself. Therefore, we can expect a pre-emptive strike by Israel on Syrian territory to destroy these weapons if they are delivered to the Assad regime in the future.
Jonathon Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the IDC (Inter-Disciplinary Center) in Herzliya. He recently spoke at the Christian Friends of Israel Jerusalem conference. He explained how the current upheavals taking place in the Middle East will affect Israel. “Syria is going to be of historical importance for Israel in the period opening up,” according to Spyer.
One of the greatest concerns for Israeli leaders is whether Iran will be strengthened by the war in Syria if the Shiites gain ground over the Sunnis. Iran has defined itself as the new sunrise power that operates in the name of Islam and the Moslem peoples of the region, but the Iranians have a problem in that they are not Arabs, they are Persians. They need an issue to stir the Arab streets to support Iran’s ambitions, and that issue is Israel.
“How do we, as Israelis and as Jews, come into this picture? After all, we have no geo-political, no geographic conflict with the Iranians,” says Spyer. “We are on one side of the region. They are on the other side of the region. We also have no historical account with the Iranians.”
Though Israel has no grievances with the Persian State, Iran’s leaders want to see Israel destroyed. “The Shiite bloc led by Iran remains by far the most able and active enemy facing Israel,” claims Spyer.
There is great Moslem opposition – both Shiite and Sunni -- to the existence of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. The land, at one time, was controlled by the Moslems and they see it as being “occupied” now by the Jews, which for them is an intolerable situation.
But, the Iranians are not only interested in re-taking the Holy Land; they also want to take over the oil rich area of the Persian Gulf. For that reason, Arab Gulf countries are afraid of Iran’s expansionist dreams. Sunni Arab monarchies are dealing with Shiite unrest in their cities with threatens to overthrow their regimes. While the Iranians continue to try and destabilize these Gulf States, Israel is finding new friends among its neighbors. Though Israel has no official public contact with some of the Gulf nations, there are unofficial meetings taking place, and Israel has hinted that a new diplomatic office has been established in one of these Arab countries.
At the same time, Iran is fervently trying to become a nuclear state in the region, escalating the conflict in Syria, in order to deflect its quest for nuclear capability. If Iran is able to build a nuclear bomb or create nuclear weapons it will become a superpower in the Middle East.
Spyer sees this as problematic. He claims that a nuclear empowered Iran would target Arab states and the Sunnis would be forced to submit to Iranian control over their nations. This is why Iran is not just the greatest threat, today, to Israel alone.
In the conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites in Syria, Spyer believes the U.S. and the west should be strongly backing the Sunni rebels.
Currently, the Assad regime is supported by Iran, Hezbollah, and Iraq with weapons, money, and soldiers who are fighting for Assad to maintain control over Syria.
The Sunnis are less organized. The rebels are increasingly financed by Sunni Moslem powers in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. Money and support coming from these nations is allowing the Sunni rebels to remain on the battlefield. But, they are not winning the war.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration have been reluctant to take sides in the battle over Syria. The fact that the United States has chosen to stay out of the war is a choice not well-received around the globe.
Spyer alluded to this in his speech. “This U.S. Administration, in my estimation, has not well-understood how things work in the Middle East, and how politics and power are wielded here.” Spyer talked about U.S. failure to back long-standing and faithful allies in the region, such as former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The argument that these were dictators who suppressed their people is valid, but how Obama dealt with them has been unnerving. When they got into trouble, Spyer explained, America, “their patron of long-standing, was seen to quickly discard them; to quickly throw them to the wolves.” He added, “From a moral or ethical level this may well not be advisory behavior; from a political level this is stupid behavior.”
Spyer believes that Middle East countries will be less likely to trust America’s intentions in the future when U.S. leaders try to engage in new friendships and alliances in the region.
If America had gotten involved with the Syrian opposition in the beginning of the revolt in Syria, it would have prevented the current situation, according to Spyer’s point of view. “As a result of the western failure to back the rebellion in Syria over the last two years, this is now dominated by Sunni Islamist forces. They have filled the vacuum left by the lack of western support.” (Spyer is talking about radicals such as the Moslem Brotherhood, the Salafists, Al Qaeda and jihadist groups that have joined in the Syrian rebellion against Assad’s regime).
“I think that it is not quite too late, and it is of crucial importance to the west and Israel and to all of us, that the Iranian side not be allowed a victory in the Syrian civil war. It is for this reason, even though I am not naïve at all about some of those people in the Syrian rebellion, that I am in support of greater western support for the rebels.”
The Obama Administration and western governments have to change their complacent foreign policies immediately in order to stop Iran’s ambition to become the dominant power in the region. To guarantee that Iran and its allies do not win an historic and strategic victory in Syria; and to assure that Iran does not become a nuclear superpower; and to make sure that Arab Gulf monarchies are protected and not forced into submission by a triumphant Iran; there must be more active involvement in the region led by a coalition of western forces.
The U.S. and Europe, along with Gulf Arab states, must come through on their promises. Israel will do everything it can, behind the scenes, and if necessary, pre-emptively, to keep this raging Middle East conflict from reaching the home front of the Jewish State. But, other world leaders need to keep it from igniting the whole Middle East.
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, 'Destroy!'” Deuteronomy 33:27
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.
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