5: Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran
The ideological rivalry between Iran (Shia) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni) was dampened in the 20th century for very pragmatic reasons. The regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia were politically conservative and had common interests in fighting more radical and nationalist parties and liberation movements in the Middle East, especially after World War II. This also led them into alliances with the United States.
However, since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran in 1979 and established a Shiite Islamist regime, the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran have grown. In the last couple of decades, the United States has also lost influence in the Middle East. Thus, the rivalry has become tougher, and Saudi Arabia fears that the Iranian nuclear program could lead to the country acquiring nuclear weapons. That fear is shared by Israel – and suddenly the old enemies Saudi Arabia and Israel have shared interests in reducing Iran’s influence and the country’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.
In 1980, Iraq attacked Iran . In this war that lasted eight years and cost well over a million people their lives, Saudi Arabia supported Iraq – especially with money. Iraq then believed that it was also fighting a war on behalf of all Arabs against non-Arab Iran. Iran, for its part, gained an ally among the Arab states, namely Syria, which had long competed with Iraq for political and ideological influence in the Middle East.
The alliance between Syria and Iran has given Saudi Arabia interest in overthrowing the regime in Damascus. The Saudis want to remove both an ideological opponent and weaken Iran by depriving them of an ally. Thus, Saudi Arabia went out quite early with political, economic and probably also military support for the Syrian opposition. On the other hand, as stated above, Iran has sent weapons and advisers to Syria and influenced the Shiite militia Hezbollah in Lebanon to send troops to Syria. This means that the civil war has also become a kind of regional war in miniature, or a war by deputies. The two great powers sit behind and pull the strings of their respective parties in Syria.
6: Turkey’s role
Syria’s neighbor Turkey today sees itself as an important superpower in the Middle East and is trying to establish good relations with many different states and regimes. Before the Arab Spring, Syria and Turkey had approached each other politically and entered into a number of co-operation agreements, although there is a moderate Sunni Islamist government in Turkey. When the uprising began, Turkey tried to mediate. They wanted a democratic solution that would give Sunni Muslims (the majority in Syria) and moderate Islamists a greater influence on developments in the country. When the regime in Damascus opposed this, Turkey began to support the opposition. It has today been given opportunities to operate from Turkish territory.
At the same time, Turkey has its own problems with the large Kurdish minority in the country. Therefore, the government in Ankara is skeptical of the Kurdish part of the opposition in Syria. It is feared that this, which is close to the great autonomous, may establish a Kurdish state or an ezembed (internal self-government) area in northeastern Syria. This could make it more difficult for Turkey to reach an agreement with its own Kurds.
This may explain why there have been reports that Turkey, which does not support the extremist Islamists in Syria at all, still seems to have encouraged Islamists in the Northeast to attack the Syrian-Kurdish militia in the Democratic Union Party – PYD.
7: Unmanageable situation and humanitarian catastrophe
The many actors in and outside Syria, and the many intersecting interests, make the situation very confusing. The humanitarian situation is also very bad . The latest figures (February 2014) say that 140,000 people have been killed during the three years of the civil war. Tens of thousands have been injured for life, and the devastation is enormous in large parts of the country.
Many people have difficulty obtaining the most necessary things, and people are starving in areas where emergency aid does not arrive. Therefore, millions are fleeing the hostilities – very many internally in Syria, but several millions have also fled to neighboring countries. This places a great strain on the resources in these countries, not least Jordan and Lebanon (see above).
There is also a great danger that the Syrian civil war could lead to unrest in neighboring countries . We have already seen armed fighting between Sunnis and Alawites around Tripoli in northern Lebanon. There have also been rocket and car bomb attacks on Shiite-dominated areas in southern Beirut in retaliation for Hezbollah’s involvement in the regime’s war in Syria. The danger of an extension of the civil war to a major regional conflict is therefore present.
The confusing situation, the steep fronts and the various interests make it difficult for the UN to have fruitful negotiations between the regime and the opposition. The last rounds in January – February this year (in Switzerland) have not yielded results. The parties are far apart, and the regime does not seem willing to accept an important demand from the opposition, namely that President Bashar al-Assad must resign.
The United States and Russia, for their part, agree that it is important for Syria to continue to exist as a separate state within current state borders , that a new (transitional) government must consist of representatives of both the current regime and the opposition , and that Islamist terrorism in Syria must be fought to prevent it from becoming international.
Fears of a complete collapse in Syria with opportunities for al-Qaeda to use the country as a base for international terrorism have led some to begin to suggest that the West and the United States should also support Bashar al-Assad’s regime. As the least of several evils.
9: Syria in sum: from hurt to worse
The situation in Syria has developed from bad to worse . The many different interests, ideological and theological differences and regional power rivalry, especially between Iran and Saudi Arabia, exacerbate the conflict and complicate a negotiated solution. The emergence of international jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda gives reason to fear an increase in Islamist terror from fighters returning to their own countries – with concrete terrorist skills and heightened hatred.
According to allcitycodes, Russia and the United States’ different positions in the conflict make it difficult for the world community to develop a common strategy for a peaceful solution through the UN. That is why we are apparently facing a long-running civil war in Syria. With a corresponding worsening of the humanitarian catastrophe.
Muslim majorities and radical subgroups
Sunni Islam and Shia Islam are the two major faiths in Islam. In recent years, the media has focused on a number of smaller directions as well – most often radical – which are partly based on the big ones and are based on these. Some of them are:
- Salafists- strong believers and strictly practicing Sunni Muslims who try to live as the first generations of Muslims did, before Islam absorbed foreign elements and became more “diluted”. Some (jihadist-holy war) Salafists want armed struggle against unbelievers or corrupt states.
- Sufists- adherents of Sufism which is a common term for Islamic mysticism and is used by both Shia and Sunni Muslim groups. A majority of Sunni Muslims consider Sufism to be part of Sunni Islam. Sufists generally place greater emphasis on the inner spiritual aspect of religiosity than on the observance of religious rules.
- Wahhabites- adherents of Wahhabism, a radical, fundamentalist direction within Sunni Islam and movement founded in the 18th century by Mohammed Abd al-Wahhab. State ideology in Saudi Arabia.
- Both a political, military and social (humanitarian) organization
- With great military capacity – a powerful military force in today’s Lebanon, which expressed significant and surprisingly strong resistance in war with Israel in 2006. Then it was war between Hezbollah and Israel, not Lebanon and Israel.
- Shia-dominated and has significant popular support in elections, is strongly represented in the National Assembly and popular as a result of the many social services they stand behind.
- The group came into being largely in response to Israeli invasion and occupation in the early 1980s.
- Operates its own influential TV channel.
- Oriented towards Iran and also supported from there, but does not necessarily share the Iranian view of society in one and all (theocracy, sharia law…)