Originally published May 30, 2013
Updates as of September 12, 2013
The U.S. is deciding how to respond to Syria following the deadly chemical attack on rebels.
To read about the attack, what the U.S. plans to do and possible implications on its own, please read U.S. and Syria – Will the U.S. Attack Syria and Why?.
The Syrian Civil War
- Syrian civil war, 2011 – current
- More than 70,000 people dead
- Hundreds of thousands are fleeing the country
- The cost of destruction exceeds $80 billion
- The fighting seems to be far from done
Who is fighting whom?
Shortest answer: The Syrian government vs. the rebels
The fight is between forces loyal to Syrian government (led by President Bashar al-Assad) and the Syrian people seeking to oust him.
Why are they fighting?
Shortest answer: Syria is a dictatorship; the rebels are fighting for a democracy, more freedom.
Syria is a dictatorship, meaning the country is governed and controlled by one person. Those protesting (also known as rebels), want a democracy which allows citizens to participate in government decisions (vote).
What caused the rebellion and the fighting?
Shortest answer: Peaceful protesters were killed by the government. This led others to join the rebels in calling for the President’s resignation.
The movement started as peaceful protests simply calling for more freedom, not Assad’s resignation. However, the government responded by opening fire on the protestors for several days.
The protests started growing as more pushed for Assad to punish those who were killing innocent civilians. Assad did nothing.
As the violence and death toll escalated, many, who would have steered clear otherwise, decided to join the protest movement and fight for Assad’s resignation.
If the Syrian government has the Syrian military on their side, how is this a fair fight?
Shortest answer: Israel and their army are helping the rebel group.
Israel stepped in to help the Syrian rebels fight against Assad.
Hezbollah (a Lebanese group) then decided to join the conflict by fighting alongside Assad and the government. They joined because they are longstanding enemies with Israel.
What was the chemical weapons attack in Damascus, Syria?
Shortest answer: Several hundreds of rebels were killed in a chemical weapons attack in Damascus. Said to be the most deadly attack. The rebels blame the government. The government is saying the rebels framed them so the rest of the world would side with them.
On August 21, 500-1,000 (death toll is not official) were killed in the rebel-held city of Damascus, Syria.
The rebels are blaming the Syrian government for the attacks, saying Assad has crossed so many lines while the rest of the world as done nothing that he doesn’t care anymore.
However, the Syrian government is claiming that the rebels did this to themselves in an effort to frame Assad’s regime and get the United Nations, the media, and others on their side.
The Syrian government is also refusing to cooperate with the United Nations and not allowing them to investigate the attacks. Russia has urged them to cooperate.
Where does the world stand in relation to the Syrian Civil War?
These are the largest forces who have either vocalized support or sent aid:
Support for Assad and the Syrian government:
- China, Russia (mostly against U.S. – and other foreign – intervention)
- Hezbollah and Iran with military and political support
Support for the Rebels:
- U.S., Turkey, Britain, France (all have only provided political support, no arms or military)
- Israel has given military support
What role does the U.S. play in this Civil War?
Shortest answer: U.S. opposes Assad’s regime and though they have considered intervening, have only provided political support.
The United States has ye to send arms to Syria (in conjunction with the European Union), though the August attack with chemical weapons had many believing Obama would re-consider sending aid to the rebels.
However, in a statement after the after the chemical weapon attacks in August, Obama said this:
Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region. source
Largely, the U.S. public does not agree with American intervention – or sending weapons – to the rebels.
Obama has also stated that he does not want to overthrow (and takeover) the Syrian government, just Assad himself in hopes it will reduce the violence in Syria.
How did Russia and the Russian missiles enter the game?
Shortest answer: Russia was purportedly going to send heavy duty missiles to Assad in order to threaten the rebels. This would give him a significant advantage in the fight.
On May 30, 2013, Assad announced his plans to purchase long-range S-300 missiles from Russia.
The S-300 missiles, one of the most advanced systems in the world, would threaten the rebels and give Assad a significant advantage in a very dangerous way.
However, no such missiles or weapons from Russia were delivered to Syria.
Why would Russia entertain the idea of sending them such advanced weapons?
Shortest answer: Russia supports the Assad regime and he hopes by sending the missiles will prevent foreign intervention in Syria’s civil war and help lead to peace talks.
Even though the missiles weren’t sent, Russia ignored the requests of the European Union (a political association of European countries, Russia is not included) because it lifted its arms embargo on Syria and, together with the U.S., considered sending the rebels weapons.
If Russia wants peace, sending missiles does seem counter intuitive. However, Russia (supporters of Assad and the Syrian government) feels the U.S., Britain, and France sending rebels weapons will only escalate the problem, cause more death and cloud potential peace talks. They do not believe in foreign interference.
The rebels are not equipped with the same amount of weaponry the Assad regime has so the chances of the rebels losing the fight are much higher without foreign aid.
Is there a chance at peace any time soon?
Shortest answer: The U.S. supports the rebels, Russia supports Assad. With neither powerhouse backing down, peace talks remain on hold.
The United Nations was set to hold an international peace conference (led by Russia and the U.S.) on the Syrian conflict in Geneva (Switzerland) on June 5th.. This conference was pushed back due to ongoing disagreement from both sides with no concrete plans to move forward with a date.
In July, Obama asked that the peace talks happen on the condition Assad resigns. Putin has not backed down on his support for Assad.
The Syrian sides are not ready to sit down at a round table together, either.Conflict continues.
Image source: FreedomHouse