CAMBRIDGE – Israel is daily ratcheting up its threats to attack Iran over its nuclear program. Unfortunately, these threats have come to overshadow more pressing events in Syria, which is the epicenter of a regional crisis that will determine the future of the Arab Spring, as well as Iran’s role in the Middle East.
Throughout 2011, the Arab uprisings were driven by each country’s internal dynamics. Yet the disparate movements were united by the pursuit of freedom, dignity, and economic opportunity. Now this liberal narrative is breaking down.
Chaos reigns in Egypt and Libya, where post-revolution authorities are proving too brittle either to consolidate their authority, or to incorporate more popular forces. In Syria, the situation is far worse, as a year-old civilian uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is now producing mass killing on a grand scale.
This violence could spill over into Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, increasing the risk of a regional conflagration. Contrary to what the Western media are saying, Syria is experiencing more than a struggle between liberalism and tyranny. In fact, both the government and the opposition, which reportedly includes groups close to al-Qaeda, receive external arms and support. And, as is often the case in this kind of war, most of the casualties are civilian bystanders. In this respect, events in Syria appear increasingly similar to the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980’s.