Is Syria Just Another Proxy War?

Jan 22 2013 / 12:19 am

By Ali Younes

For those who have been following the bloody events in Syria in the past two years, it is clear that there is no doubt that the regime of Bashaar al-Assad is responsible for killing tens of thousands of Syrian citizens and destroying much of the country’s infrastructure. But to say that is to say only part of the story.

The different militant groups of the Syrian opposition, ranging from the Free Syrian Army, which is supported by the US and other western countries, to the Islamic Jihadists and Salafist groups that seek to establish an Islamic state in Syria, share significant responsibility for committing atrocities in the Syrian countryside, according to news reports and eyewitness accounts reported by several international media outlets.

The conflict in Syria where the government troops are fighting a losing battle against rebel groups has destroyed large parts of the modern Syrian state plunging Syrian citizens into a state of destruction and homelessness at home and in neighboring countries.

Casting some blame on the rebel groups, however, has very little traction in the pro-rebels Arabic media outlets which often report on the death and destruction caused by the regime war machine and army troops.

An Arab journalist and analyst based in Washington D.C who declined to use his name in this column, argued to me that the rebel groups that are currently fighting a war of attrition against the regime and particularly those with Jihadist bent represent a worst alternative to Assad’s regime.

Although he is not supportive of Assad’s regime and blames it for its total dependence on foreign diplomatic and military assistance in order to stay in power, he equally, however, blames the militants for their dependence on foreign military and financial assistance.

“Both parties are destroying Syria,” he said.

While the Syrian regime is mainly supported by Iran, China and Russia, the rebels are supported by the Europeans, the US and its Arab allies.

The conflict and later the war in Syria has, in reality, been transformed from peaceful protests for political and economic reform into a proxy war between regional and international powers at the expense of the Syrian people and their country.

Although different Syrian rebel groups claim to have control over large swaths of the country, especially in the countryside, there is little evidence, however, that shows stability or a sense of normalcy in the areas under their control. Life is not going back to normal in those areas according to several Arab and western news reports. Syrian opposition leaders, in addition, have yet to move back to those areas and set up their own government, a clear sign of instability in those areas.

Meanwhile, Zakariya Al Sayed a Syrian opposition activist whom I reached on the phone in Amman Jordan, told me that there is no such thing as “liberated areas” in Syria so-to-speak. This is because, he argued, the regime still maintains its ability to strike against those areas from the air. The situation in those areas is unlike the Kurdish region in northern Iraq during the US invasion of that country or in Benghazi where US and NATO provided no fly zones and air cover.

It is obvious, moreover, that the Syrian regime is still in control of the major urban cities like Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Derra where the residents, according to the Arab journalist, worry about what would happen to them should the Jihadists take control of their areas, thus choosing in the meantime Assad’s regime over the rebel groups. This is not to say that Assad or his regime are popular in the cities — he is not, but many prefer it over the possibility of being ruled by radical and jihadist groups and with them the probability of chaos and civil war afterward.

Adding fuel to the fire is the presence of extremist groups like Al Nusra Front, which the United States designated it as a terrorist organization. Al Nusra, which is reportedly an Al Qaida affiliate, might be the best weapon the regime has, not only to scare its citizens of the alternative to its demise but also the West, which is eager not to repeat its mistakes in Iraq or Libya.

It is this quandary that makes the war in Syria very difficult to end without direct foreign military intervention on the side to the rebels, which is highly unlikely at this point, or in the absence of a rebels’ military operation that decapitates the regime without destroying the remaining infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the prevailing public opinion in the Arab World accuses the West and Israel of keeping the Syrian conflict burning this long because, as the opinion goes, keeping Syria weak and unstable will only serve those powers. As for the Syrian people who chose to brave the killing and destruction and stay or those who are living in refugee camps across the borders the future is unpredictable and bleak even when the regime eventually collapses.

– Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He contributed this article to Contact him at: and on Twitter at @clearali.

Posted by on Jan 22 2013 . Filed under Articles, Commentary . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

1 Comment for “Is Syria Just Another Proxy War?”

  1. Mo

    Ali, thank you for a wonderfully objective and informative analysis of the situation and nuances behind the tragedy unfolding daily in Syria. The last paragraph which mentions “the prevailing public opinion in the Arab World” which blames “the West and Israel” is a sad indictment of the mentality which pervades so much of the Arab world.

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