My enemies’ enemy is my friend; but who is my enemy?

It is now over two years since the beginning of the crisis in Syria and two things are clear. President Bashar Assad will not fall easily and over the last month his situation has significantly improved after the advances made by the Syrian military near Homs and the outskirts of Damascus. Secondly the continuation of the crisis in the current fashion is leading to a growing footprint for extremists including Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. Syria is now becoming a springboard for these into neighboring countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. There are two only viable choices: support the rebels or intervene directly. But the US continues a third choice; pursuing diplomacy.

There persists division among the international community for direct intervention. Lies and procrastination and little hope for a United Nations Security Council Resolution go hand in hand with President Obama’s policy of working, and not confronting world players like Russia or China who support Syria. Supporting the rebels is not fairing any better since any support would have to be more and better than Assad is receiving from Russia and others.

This is not to say the process has not started; it is just to say that it will not go anywhere. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 15-3 for legislation that would send arms to “vetted” moderate members of the Syrian opposition, the first time U.S. lawmakers have approved such military action in the two-year-old civil war. It is not yet clear when or whether the full Senate will vote on the measure on grounds that risks are too high that radical extremist terrorists among those fighting for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad would get their hands on American military hardware.

However such supplies may be too little too late. Even the 35 tons of weapons from Saudi Arabia to the Free Syria Army over the last month are not making a dent in the battle. The failure to arm the rebels has also affected diplomacy. The chief of staff of the Free Syria Army is refusing to attend talks in Geneva unless the United States and its allies establish a “military balance” by giving him modern anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. The bottom line is that the US is hedging for a diplomatic solution in Syria however that may leave Assad in power.

However Syria is not the consequence of this inaction. Following Israel’s attack on Damascus earlier this month, Tehran affirmed its full support for Hizbullah recognizing that the Israeli attack was on Syria, but the real target was Iran and Hizbullah. Tehran received a message from the US and Russia that the Israeli attack was in isolation and there is no intent to declare war on Syria. Indeed Israeli sources inferred that the targets were weapons from Iran to Hizbullah. An analysis of Iranian and Hizbullah sources show that the Israeli attack on Syria has strengthened the Iranian-Hizbullah-Syrian axis.

A letter was conveyed to Hizbullah leadership from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, by special envoy Ali Akbar Salehi in which Khamenei vowed “a message of solidarity and full and unlimited support from Iran, politically, militarily, and economically, to the Hizbullah leadership and people, against the takfiris, terrorists, Israel, the US, and all who dare attack them.” At the same time Jordanian King Abdullah was given a clear and unequivocal message of Iran’s strong commitment to protect al-Assad and Syria, stating “You must be aware that if the US decides to go to war with Syria, your kingdom will go in the process however The Islamic Republic is ready to provide you what you need in face of pressures and to avoid the conflict being transferred inside Jordan.” Jordan responded that it would not interfere in Syria.

Summer is here and the war clouds are gathering where the only question remains is the order of alliances in the battle. The Middle East has traditionally waged war with such dictum as my friends’ friend is my friend and my enemies’ enemy is my friend; but who is my enemy? With the civil war raging in Syria, Israel needs to decide who is her enemy because attacking the wrong party will create alliances where none exist and strengthen other alliances which were on the path to dissolution.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-IlanUniversity and Senior Researcher for the ArielResearchCenter for Defense and Communication

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.