Syria in the fourth year of conflict
The Syrian crisis, which has continued unabated for three years, has now entered a fourth year of conflict. This special issue on Syria brings together a group of scholars and analysts to examine the origins of the conflict in Syria, the groups that actively participate in it, and the impact of the civil war on neighboring countries, including Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
The genesis of the revolution against the Assad regime and the arrival of the “Arab Spring” to Syria are illustrated by Radwan Ziadeh, who traces the origins of the popular resentment against Assad in recent Syrian history and categorizes the different groups that are fighting in the rebellion. The piece by Raphaël Lefèvre gives a historical overview of the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in modern Syrian history, and then analyzes its influence on the civil war in Syria, arguing that while the organization presents itself as a moderate Islamist group, the deteriorating security context means its military offshoots are susceptible to radicalization.
A military solution to the Syrian conflict seems increasingly unattainable. As Muriel Asseburg points out in her opinion piece, political settlement is also out of reach as the warring parties are unwilling, for a number of reasons, to compromise and end the killing. Among the reasons for this reluctance to compromise is, as shown in the piece by Ella Wind and Omar Dahi, a shadow economy that is based on warlordism, foreign funding, theft, smuggling and black markets. Wind and Dahi analyze the deterioration of the economic sphere in Syria after the start of the uprising, and the half-measures taken by the regime that failed to address the root causes of the people’s grievances as it went into survival mode.
The role of regional actors is also addressed especially in Joseph Alagha’s article on Hezbullah’s involvement in the Syrian uprising. Alagha argues that Hezbullah supported the Arab street with the exception of Syria, where it stood by its longtime ally, the Syrian regime. While this support was initially secret, the party finally announced in May 2013 that it had entered the conflict in Syria on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, deeming this struggle an existential fight. Indeed, Hezbullah joıned the fight providing logistical and material help not only to rescue its ally and defend its rearguard, but also to preserve its weapons supply route. This has however been at the expense of its relations with Sunni groups such as Hamas, as its actions have fueled Sunni-Shia discord not only in Lebanon but also in the region at large.
The impact of the crisis on neighboring countries is addressed by Michael Bishku and Jacob Abadi in their pieces on Israel and Jordan, respectively. Bishku explores the history of the relations between Syria and Israel since the armistice between the two countries in 1949, in addition to the role played by the Palestinians in affairs between the two nations. He also addresses variations in Turkish attitudes vis-à-vis Israel based on the changes in its relations with Syria and the Palestinians, and describes the divisions in the region and the reactions of different groups -- such as Hamas and Hezbollah -- to the Syrian crisis.
Abadi explores the history of the relationship between Jordan and Syria, and explains the change in the attitude by King Abdullah II toward the Syrian conflict. As Abadi notes, after 2012, Jordan became increasingly active in helping the Syrian rebels, with the king adopting the approach taken by the US and Saudi Arabia. The piece also briefly discusses the impact of refugees on Jordan’s society, demography, infrastructure and economy, and the fear the presence of refugees engenders among Jordanians.
Dr. Rola al-Husseini, Editor-at-Large