The calamitous Syrian situation

The country of Syria has become the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. In geographical size, Syria is slightly more than 1.5 times the size of the state of Pennsylvania. Syria had a population of around 23 million in 2011. The ongoing fighting has caused approximately 5.2 million refugees to flee the country. The refugees are mostly housed in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Millions more of Syria’s people have been displaced within the country. Since the conflict began in 2011, the number of deaths among Syrian government forces, opposition paramilitaries and civilians is estimated to exceed 400,000.

As a result of fighting, Syria’s economy has declined, its per capita GDP has dropped to about $2,900. The country now has a 50% unemployment rate. The economic distress caused by the ongoing warfare has pushed around 84% of the population below the poverty line. The value of the Syrian Pound has declined to 498 to the dollar. In short, Syria has become an economically failed state.

The deadly combination of Russian air power, Iranian military aid and Hezbollah ground units have done much to keep the regime of Bashar al-Assad in power. Along with its own forces, Iran has encouraged Shia fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to go to Syria. As Lebanon- based Hezbollah’s military sophistication grows, Israel’s border security worries increase. The Israeli military believes that Hezbollah now has 17 times more rockets than it had 10 years ago. To counter the growing threat, Israeli military aircraft have been destroying selected Hezbollah targets in Syria.

The massive involvement of other countries has complicated efforts to halt the fighting. Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia support the opposition forces, but their recent level of assistance appears to be somewhat in decline. Although its diplomatic initiatives have mostly failed, the United States has had success in its campaign to roll back the gains made by the horrific Islamic State. As Iran’s influence in Syria grows, Israel wants to ensure that Iran does not strengthen Hezbollah’s ability to make trouble in the Lebanon-Israel border region. Always ready to meddle, Russia wants to expand its regional role and maintain its Syrian bases.

Although it is retaking lost territory, the Assad government governs a devastated country. If the fighting eventually dies down, world attention will turn to the immense cost of the effort to rebuild Syria. In the meantime, there is a real danger that the exertions of the disparate countries at work in Syria could lead to a military confrontation that could rapidly escalate. In the short-term, the outlook for Syria is extremely gloomy. If present trends continue, the Syrian humanitarian crisis will maintain its position as the world’s largest for a long time.