A leading Israeli expert on the Middle East suggested last week that with all the foreign involvement in the ongoing Syrian civil war, that conflict could be the harbinger of a much wider conflagration.
Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, told those attending a symposium at Tel Aviv University that in the eyes of the Arab world, the final outcome of the Arab Spring hinges on the results of the struggle in Syria.
According to Prof. Rabinovich, the Syrian conflict is a Middle Eastern version of the Spanish Civil War, which was itself a dress rehearsal for World War II.
In Syria, the opposition is supported by the US and Europe, while the regime is backed by Hezbollah, Iran, and China. For Russia, the stakes are also high.
Moscow sees Syria as a key to restoring Russia's status in the region, so replacing the Assad regime with one supportive of America is unacceptable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Still, it's Iran that probably has the most to lose in Syria. Prof. Rabinovich explained that Iran has actually invested more than Russia when it comes to Syria. Iran wants hegemony in the Middle East, and thus far it has only managed to export its Islamic Revolution to Lebanon, in the form of Hezbollah, which is today more powerful than the state itself.
Iran needs to maintain Syria as a vital link to Hezbollah if it hopes to succeed anywhere else in the region. "The civil war in Syria is not being run by Assad, but rather by Iranian military commanders," Rabinovich revealed. "Hezbollah is also commanding much of the fighting with troops that entered the country from Lebanon."