Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Brief: Syria’s new war

Syria's war has left many ancient relics in tatters

The Brief  is a breakdown of the forces driving the headlines and what you can do to make a difference

Catch up The war in Syria has been raging since 2011. What originally began as an armed resistance to Bashar Al-Assad’s authoritarian regime has snowballed into a multi-sided proxy war involving major global powers.

How did we end up here? The uprising against Assad was originally part of the ‘Arab spring’: the movement for democracy across several countries in the middle east. Seven years on, many of these countries are in the midst of civil war and chaos, with Tunisia being considered the only ‘successful’ revolution.

Why did it get so complicated? Well, it’s complicated. The simple version is that the war in Syria morphed from being the pro-democracy rebels vs the authoritarian Assad regime, into something harder to define. There are two other key players on the ground: a rebel breakaway – the so-called Islamic State (IS) – and the armed Kurdish militias.

IS want to overthrow the regime, but only in order to set up an Islamic caliphate – putting them at odds with the rebels. Concerns about weapons from the west being given to the rebels falling into the hands of IS has made supporting the rebels untenable for most world leaders.

The Kurds are often a forgotten piece of this puzzle: a pro-democracy, socially liberal nation that is currently unrecognised by most countries. They have been historically persecuted by others in the region and due to their proximity to the conflict have no option but to be involved.

Proxy war Major countries are taking sides – which is lengthening the conflict. Assad is receiving support from the terrorist group Hezbollah, Russia and Iran: all helping him to commit horrendously cruel acts of genocide. The United States, Turkey and the Gulf states are backing the rebels, but without much success. Each country has its own goals, which are often conflicting – it’s a mess.

It could get worse There’s another conflict brewing in this chaos – Israel and Iran. Iran wants Syria in Assad’s control because he is a Shia ally, and it provides a passageway for Iran to supply weapons to Hezbollah, whom they also support. This concerns Israel because both Iran and Hezbollah refuse to recognise Israel’s existence and the conflict is dangerously close to their border. On top of this, the leaders of both countries are facing domestic pressures – and a war against a familiar foe provides an escape from this.

The concern for the international community is that now Israel have been drawn into the conflict, this proxy war could escalate into a full blown war.

People are saying Jack Clayton for Progress Online: ‘Netanyahu, amongst other things, is a very experienced politician. As an election approaches next year, he is doing all he can to focus the national discussion in Israel on the increasing threat of Iran. He did of course come into prominence by stressing the importance of putting Israel’s security first at almost any cost. With a fellow conservative in the White House, who withdrew from the nuclear deal essentially by his own demand, and moved the U.S embassy to Jerusalem, Netanyahu has been given carte blanche.

‘His new sense of empowerment has led to accelerated building of settlements in the Palestinian territories. Crucially though, his increased aggression towards Iran in Syria comes straight after Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Soon, they could become the main warring factions in Syria, with every intention of intensifying and prolonging their conflict for domestic support respectively.’

What next For now most of the world watches on with concern. As the progressives, in government we must be committed to working with progressives in Israel who equally condemn Netanyahu’s actions. We have allies in the Israeli Labor party who want to hold him to account, and Jeremy Corbyn will have to work with them if he wants to solve this potential crisis. That also means rebuilding trust with the Jewish community.

Be a progressive Watch this Vox explainer that takes you through the timeline of the conflict, with details on all the sides involved.

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Stefan Rollnick is an editorial assistant at Progress. He tweets @StefanRollnick

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