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What Lies Ahead in Syria?

Brendan James is a contributor at Via Meadia.

The hope for a U.S.-Russian backed solution to Syria is dead. The ritual vetoes from both Russia and China on a strong Security Council resolution were cast last Thursday, just before the Free Syrian Army tore into Damascus and Aleppo, making major gains and digging in their heels for more grueling standoffs with the forces of Bashar al-Assad.

Now, with no chance for a concentrated, international effort to contain the violence, the rebels, Assad, and statesmen everywhere are now all hostage to fortune.

And what might fortune have in store? Just as there are no good options for intervention, there remain precious few good outcomes of a protracted civil war. James Blitz at The Financial Times surveys the most ominous clouds of regional instability floating above the chaotic violence in Syria: In addition to refugees, one of the gravest risks is widespread proliferation of weapons, conventional or otherwise. For a taste of the threat, look no further than the woes in Mali that have followed Libya’s revolution:

[M]any security chiefs will be reflecting on how the fall of Col Muammar Gaddafi last year saw Libya’s military stockpiles thrown open to all-comers, turning the country into an immense source of illegal weapons. This has allowed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Tuareg rebels to create a major AQ stronghold in northern Mali that is becoming a serious regional threat. The fear in Israel and the US will be that the same kind of displacement of weapons is about to happen in Syria – but on a much larger scale.

The possibility of Israel stepping in to prevent Hezbollah from seizing any of Assad’s chemical weapons stock has seen a nasty complication: Syria’s foreign minister has declared that while the regime won’t gas its own citizens à la Saddam, it will unleash a chemical storm on any foreign “invader.” Whether or not this threat will deter this Israelis, who have a real vested interest in keeping Hezbollah out of reach of WMD, remains to be seen.

Hezbollah, by the way, sees its own survival at stake: the Assad regime, the group’s nearest and second principal patron, is not long for this world. Blitz warns of a new and messy power struggle in Lebanon once Hezbollah is left without Big Brother Bashar to underwrite its rule over the south of the country:

As Mr Joshi of RUSI, puts it, “This might embolden Lebanon’s Sunnis who have felt battered for the last few years by Hezbollah’s strength.” One western official says it could now take only a small incident to spark a major conflict between Shia and Sunni groups inside Lebanon.

So add another wave of the “Sunni Surge” to the list of unpredictable and far-reaching knock-on effects we might see from this blistering struggle.

Of course, what exactly will happen, no one can possibly predict. The FSA’s gains in Damascus and Aleppo on Saturday surprised everyone—least of all the rebels. It was a jarring reminder that amid revolution, the realities on the ground change, and fast, just as they did in February when the Libyan rebels cut into Tripoli like a hot knife through butter. But far more is at stake in the fall of Assad than that of Qaddafi, and now without the guiding hand of an international coalition, far more is at stake than the fall of Saddam. There are more weapons, more refugees, and endless contingencies.

Hold tight.

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