Think local – Syria is not a conventional war

There are two things you’ll have noticed if you’ve been keeping an eye on Syria since things heated up there. The first is that the media likes to think of it as something big, part of a greater global movement (i.e. the Arab Spring, democrats meet despot), or a grand warfare of great power scale – a confrontation between East and West. The second is that the war is largely a stalemate. The two are related in some ways.

If you look at a map of ethnicities/sects (the two are often interchangeable in the region), you’ll notice something interesting. If you don’t, then look at a map showing who controls what areas. Alawite, Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, are the big things to remember in Syria. Syria is defined by sectarianism.

Demographics in Syria

Demographics in Syria

Rebel Activity in Syria

Rebel Activity in Syria

The Neighbourhood Watch

This is where it becomes interesting, because the lines have barely changed for the last two years. Normally in a war, one side starts winning and, taking the offensive, slowly gains more ground. In Syria, though, most of the rebels are winners only in home ground. Tanks come into their street and they pull together as a community and blow them up, give them an away match and they suddenly shuffle back to their houses.

Of course there are exceptions, and this is what will decide the war. Foreign contingents have no local loyalties, Jabhat al Nusra for the rebels and Hezbollah for the Sunnis are game changers.

Al Nusra may only have a few thousand soldiers, but a lot of them are committed jihadis, and the fact that the Free Syrian Army group hasn’t disowned them to get more support from the West, shows how effective they’ve been so far – at least for me.

Hezbollah sent over battle-hardened light infantry to show the regime that it would, in Nasralla’s words, “not let it fall”. One of the biggest events in the war so far, Qusayr, was mainly down to them. However, Hezbollah is cautious, and the soldiers won’t fight for death like al Nusra.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Syria.