Syria’s Shattered Mosaic

Thanks to support from Russia and Iran, Bashar al-Assad’s regime no longer faces collapse – and thanks to support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Assad’s various opponents continue to hold large swaths of territory. When will the war end, and how will the outcome shape the regional and global politics?

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At some point, Syria’s civil war – now in its sixth year – will end. But how? As Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, once said: “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

Sadly, the actors in the Syrian tragedy have yet to reach that point. Thanks to support from Russia and Iran, Bashar al-Assad’s regime no longer faces collapse. Thanks to support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Assad’s various opponents continue to hold large swaths of territory. And though the Islamic State (ISIS), sworn enemy not just of Assad but of all regimes, is losing ground, it remains powerful – and is demonstrating an alarming capacity to incite terrorist attacks in both Europe and the United States.

The military stalemate is mirrored by a political and diplomatic deadlock. Talks in Geneva have been an exercise in verbose frustration. A ceasefire painstakingly negotiated between the US and Russia in September ended in horrific bloodshed: on September 19, a United Nations humanitarian convoy was destroyed, either by Russian or Syrian jets (America’s accusation) or by rebel ground-fire (Russia’s assertion).

The following day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pulled no punches in his address to the General Assembly in New York. “Present in this Hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in, or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all sides of the Syria conflict against Syrian civilians.”