The entry of Hezbollah into the Syrian civil war has definitely shifted the balance of power in the region. For the first time, the Assad regime has been gaining ground and recapturing territory. While the Obama administration promised weapons to the rebels, nothing has followed and the depleted condition of these troops is now proving costly.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the rebels are a seriously divided force with important disagreements in their ranks. Their lack of unity and weapons continues to deplete the rebels. Having considered these important factors, one must also recognize the tides are not exactly flowing in Assad’s favor.
Consider the economy. Two years of fighting have reduced the system to one-sixth of its prewar value. Factories have been destroyed, farms ruined, and all tourism disappeared. Income from oil production has vanished as rebels took over oil fields and the West imposed sanctions. Syria once prided itself on a low national debt and self-sufficiency, but has now had to turn to Iran, Russia, and China to buy food and fuel. Heavy loans from Iran have not inspired confidence among the Syrian business community as it signals an inability to support themselves. The value of the Syrian pound fell from 47 to the dollar down to 330.
Senior American intelligence officials are now predicting the civil war could last from many, many months to years. The same leaders also believe an American response has been lacking that could have ended the war. Disagreements between the United States and various Arab countries on how to respond and what weaponry to supply have not helped.
Currently militia units are springing up in Damascus in an attempt to stabilize the neighborhood environments. Of particular concern is the Old City district with its famous street called Straight that runs through the center of the original town of the first century. Several years ago, I walked through the market and traversed the length of the street. At the far end, you descend steps to the place where the Apostle Paul received his sight after Ananias prayed for him following his Damascus road experience. Muslims aren’t concerned with preserving this site, but they are worried that bombs could fall into the city and damage the neighborhood.
The spontaneous appearance of the militia groups also protects against kidnaping as well as infiltration by outside forces. The New York Times, Sunday, July 21, carried a story exploring these new developing forces within neighborhoods. One young man who had volunteered to become a leader was flown by the government to Iran with 500 other men for training in how to use rifles, rocket-propelled grenade, and mortars. This new militiaman expressed his fears that if an attack came on the Old City, anything was possible.
One of the reasons for the emergence of these Shiite militia is to seek protection form the Sunni majority that are the basis for the rebel uprising against Assad. Moreover, they also reflect the country’s war wariness that has no signs of stopping.
The bottom line? The shifts in Syria aren’t good and do not appear to be going anywhere.