The Syrian Knot
The war in Syria has become a tangled conflict of local, regional, and global struggles, each with the potential for perilous escalation. But, while the war must be brought to an end as quickly as possible, that will not be possible so long as either President Bashar al-Assad or the Islamic State remain in the picture.
BERLIN – For four years, a bloody war has raged in Syria. What began as a democratic uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship has developed into a cat’s cradle of conflicts, partly reflecting a brutal proxy struggle among Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia for regional domination. This struggle, as the fighting in Yemen has shown, has the potential to destabilize the entire region. And now Russia, by means of its military intervention on Assad’s behalf, is seeking to enhance its status as a global power vis-à-vis the West (and the United States in particular).
So the conflict in Syria is taking place on at least three levels: local, regional, and global. And, because the fighting has been permitted to fester and spread, around 250,000 people have died, according to United Nations estimates. This summer, the UN Refugee Agency put the number of refugees who had fled Syria at four million, in addition to 7.6 million internally displaced people. In the meantime, the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe has developed into one of the greatest challenges the European Union has ever faced.
The Syrian civil war has also become one of the most dangerous breeding grounds for Islamist terrorism, as the Islamic State (ISIS) attacks in Ankara, Beirut, and Paris, and the bombing of a Russian passenger plane above the Sinai Peninsula, have shown. Moreover, Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane has heightened the risk that major powers will be drawn directly into the fighting. After all, Turkey, as a NATO member, would be entitled to the Alliance’s military assistance were it to be attacked.