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Making matters difficult

india Updated: May 28, 2013 22:05 IST
Hindustan Times
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The Syrian civil war took a few more steps to being a proxy conflict for various international groupings. The European Union officially ended an arms embargo against the Syrian rebels.

Russia publicly announced the shipping of anti-aircraft missiles to the Damascus regime. And earlier, the Lebanon-based Shia militia and close ally of Iran, Hezbollah, had declared its intention to send in its own fighters to back the beleaguered regime of President Bashar al Assad.

While this may all sound alarming, all this does is mark the end of a shadow war in which foreign governments had been covertly providing arms, money and soldiers for one or the other Syrian contenders. Such support is now being declared before television cameras.

Governments like India can stop mouthing platitudes about letting the Syrians decide their own future - this line had ceased to have anything to do with the reality on the ground even last year.

Syria, tragically, is a conflict where several geopolitical fault lines have been crossed. One is a struggle between Iran, on one side, and Turkey and the Arab Persian Gulf states, on the other, for political leadership of the Muslim world. While outwardly a Shia-Sunni conflict, it is more about an Arab and Turkish attempt to contain Iranian influence.

The other fault line is about Russia trying to maintain a foothold in West Asia in a manner that shows defiance to the West. Finally, Syria is still embedded in a larger Sunni narrative that began with the so-called "Arab spring" and is about a broader historical Arab political reformation.

The early expectations of a rapid rebel victory have evaporated. But the Assad regime is not in a position to win, especially with 70% of Syria's population arrayed against it.

Syria is now heading for a long, protracted conflict that will bleed both its people and its neighbours white. The conflict is already unsettling Iraq, the Turkish border areas and threatens to drag in Jordan and Israel. It is noticeable that there is no credible peace process - the US-Russia meeting is already in trouble.

As happens in a war between equals, a lot more blood has to be spilt before the protagonists are prepared to accept that compromise might be an acceptable alternative to victory.