Syria’s civil war turned into a regional conflict when Israeli warplanes bombed a Syrian military base over the weekend to stop weapons from going to Lebanese terrorists, expanding the warring factions and changing “the rules of the game,” as one analyst said.
The 2-year-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad remains a sectarian war at its core, but the countries supporting one side or the other now are engaged in a fight for dominance.
Mr. Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, has been bolstered by support from Iran’s security and intelligence services, Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and Iraqi Shiite militants.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are arming the opposition Free Syrian Army, which is mostly composed of Syria’s Sunni majority.
“Iran’s involvement has contributed to a chain reaction in Syria, with Iran’s regional rivals, like Saudi Arabia, playing an increasingly active role,” said Daniel Byman, a professor in the security studies program at Georgetown University. “In addition, the spiral of intervention has fostered a regionwide perception that this is a sectarian war rather than a straightforward struggle for freedom.”
Iranian support to the Assad regime is “deep, extensive, expensive, well-integrated and well-coordinated,” said Will Fulton, an analyst for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.
In an unprecedented move, Iran has deployed its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ground forces on training and advisory missions in Syria, said Mr. Fulton, co-author of a new report on Iran’s role in Syria with the Institute for the Study of War.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned Monday that Israel is “playing with fire,” according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
The Israeli government has not confirmed involvement in the airstrikes. On Monday, it signaled a return to “business as usual,” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arriving in China on a scheduled visit.
The Syrian war has sucked in other regional players as well.