United Nations investigators released their latest report on Syria Thursday, noting that the Syrian conflict “has become overtly sectarian in nature” with foreign fighters assisting on both sides. According to the investigators, the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah has confirmed its members are in Syria fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Asad, while Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is providing “intellectual and advisory support” to Damascus. The UN is also looking into reports that Iraqi Shiites are fighting for the regime.
On the rebel side, Sunnis mostly from countries across the Middle East and North Africa have joined in on the fight, but fighters from Europe and the United States are also infiltrating Syria. So far, the UN has recorded 29 countries from where fighters originated. As more foreign fighters join the ranks of the rebels, the likelihood that extremists will gain ground amongst the opposition increases. According to U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford — pulled from his post in the country over one year ago — extremists are in fact gaining influence amongst Syrian rebels, posing “an obstacle to finding the political solution that Syria needs.” Washington continues to assert that a political solution not including President Asad is the only way to resolve the conflict.
Chairman of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, and member Carla del Ponte (R) address a joint news conference in Brussels December 20, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)
Meanwhile, the news of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria heightens concerns that Asad may pass its chemical weapons on to the group — a red line for Israel, as Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, noted last week. Syria is believed to house one of the world’s largest chemical weapons arsenals. The U.S. has issued its own red line when it comes to Syria’s chemical weapons, recently stating that the regime’s use of such weapons would cause the U.S. to take action. Asad’s inner circle is reportedly engaged in “intensive debate” on whether or not to use chemical weapons, and has discussed tasking the IRGC rather than the Syrian army with the job.
The longer the fighting in Syria lasts, the more desperate both the regime and the opposition may become, leading them to resort to harsher tactics. Time also only allows for continued infiltration into both parties by more extremist elements, which would only make a solution to the conflict that much harder to find.