Analysis: Who’s backing who as Syria’s civil war threatens to spread – World News.
Daniel Leal Olivas / AFP – Getty Images
By Mandy Clark and Paul Nassar, NBC News
Syria’s two-year civil war has claimed more than 100,000 lives and sent at least 1.7 million refugees spilling across its borders.
It has already affected neighboring countries, and now threatens to drag in the United States.
What began as a popular movement, demanding the removal of autocratic President Bashar Assad, has become an increasingly sectarian conflict.
About three-quarters of Syria’s Muslims are from the Sunni sect. However, the Assad dynasty, which has ruled the country since 1970, is from the minority Alawite sect which is close to Shiite Islam.
The sectarian divide is important because it lies at the root of instability not only within Syria but also in Iraq and other pockets of the Middle East.
The Islamic Republic of Iran – a Shiite Muslim regional power – is a staunch ally of the Assad government and has been providing arms, military training and cash. If Assad falls, Iran will be deeply wounded….
After American troops toppled Sunni Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq’s Shiite majority became dominant. With this shift came regional alliances with Shiite countries including Iran and Syria….
Russia is the Syrian government’s most powerful foreign backer and has stuck its neck out to support Assad’s crackdown….
The kingdom is the Syria opposition’s main backer, along with smaller Gulf state of Qatar, and has been sending billions in humanitarian aid and weapons to Syrian rebels….
The small kingdom may exist in the shadow of neighbor Saudi Arabia, but it has big money and ambitions. It has been backing the rebels with humanitarian aid as well as arms, and is has been seeking a more prominent role in the region, offering to host peace talks in its capital, Doha….
…“Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said in a letter to Congress. “Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”
Until June, the administration was opposed to providing any lethal assistance to Syria’s rebels, but in June it said it was moving ahead with sending weapons to vetted members of the opposition.
Formerly a close friend of Syria, Turkey’s moderate Islamist government has become a supporter of the rebels and supplying them with arms, security sources and diplomats say, according to Reuters. Officials also look the other way as rebels use the long and porous border as a resupply route….
France, the former colonial power in Syria, was the first Western power to join the anti-Assad camp and has been pushing for a more committed international effort to help the rebels….
CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE
Schisms in Syria are mirrored in its tiny neighbor Lebanon, which is a mosaic of religious communities, each with their own allegiances….
…Hezbollah’s entry into the Syrian civil war has worsened the already tense relationships between Lebanon’s various religious communities, making it more likely that it will slip back into civil war itself.
The estimated 540,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan are a huge strain on the ailing economy. Meanwhile, King Abdullah’s government is struggling not to get too embroiled in the Syrian civil war, and stresses that that it wants a political solution….
Hamas: The Palestinians
…Hamas withdrew in 2011 after receiving support from Islamist movements sparked by the Arab Spring, and is now supporting Assad’s enemies. Palestinians in Syria are paying the price for the betrayal of their former host and patron, and have been driven out or targeted by bombings. Over 235,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria have been displaced, and more than 80,000 are now refugees again in neighboring countries, according to the U.N.
…”We are not seeking to challenge anyone, but no one will harm the State of Israel without a response — a strong and resolute response,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told soldiers who took part in a Golani infantry brigade exercise in June.
Israel is believed to have carried out three bomb strikes this year in Syria targeting Hezbollah weapons caches but refuses to confirm or deny whether it was responsible.
Although the civil war is centered on Syria, it is risks inflaming unrest across the Middle East. “The whole region could face a sustained period of violence,” University of London’s Chris Phillips added.
NBC News’ F. Brinley Bruton and Ghazi Balkiz contributed to this report.
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