As the fighting and bloodshed in the Syrian civil war intensify, the fears that neighbouring countries will get sucked in are growing. Iran this week admitted that its forces are present in Syria, while Israel is concerned that the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad could lead to chemical weapons falling in the hands of terrorists.
International attention refocused on Syria this week following the massacre of around 120 civilians on Friday in the town of Houla. But despite the western denunciations and the decision by Britain and other governments to expel Syrian diplomats in protest over the massacre, foreign military intervention against the Assad régime does not seem any closer. Both Russia and China made it clear that they would oppose any move in the UN Security Council to authorise international intervention in Syria, further than the 300 UN observers already agreed upon.
One foreign force which has already intervened in Syria are the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Last week, a senior officer in the Quds force, the arm of the Guards which operates outside Iran, confirmed that his men were in Syria, saying that “if the Islamic republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of people would have happened on a much larger scale.”
“The Iranians are supplying Assad with weapons, advisers and technological assistance,” said a senior figure in the Syrian opposition.
“They are also encouraging fighters from Hizbollah in Lebanon and followers of Moqtada a-Sadr in Iraq to volunteer for Assad. In addition, they have set up a slush fund to help Assad pay for arms shipments from Russia.” The opposition leader said that “Iran will stop short at actually sending in military units to back up Assad because that could be seen as a direct threat to Israel and a reason for a strike on Iran.”
The main worry in Israel is that the Syrian army’s large stores of chemical weapons could reach terror organisations like Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad if and when the régime falls. Senior IDF officers have said in recent weeks that, so far, there is no evidence of such weapons reaching terror organisations so far but in the chaos following Assad’s departure, nothing could be ruled out.