More broadly, the Syria crisis has engendered “a return of a global competition," says Mr. Khouri. Indeed, Russia and China – feeling burned by voting for a Libya resolution last year that turned into de facto regime change – have vetoed two United Nations Security Council resolutions on Syria, thwarting American and European attempts to take action against the Assad regime. Since then, Syrian forces have launched brutal assaults on key rebel strongholds, including Homs, Idlib, and Deraa.
"It was the Russian and Chinese veto that really gave the Syrians a special boost,” says Khouri. “The Russians are clearly pushing back against what they see as an American-dominated drive in the region, and Russians don’t want the Americans to go around changing regimes at will.”
Kofi Annan, envoy for the United Nations and Arab League, is due to brief the UN Security Council today about his fruitless efforts so far to bring a cease-fire. His efforts have been vastly complicated by the regional gamesmanship.
“What has happened in the big picture is that the Syrian crisis has been caught in a regional cold war,” says Fawaz Gerges, head of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
The regional battle lines were clearly drawn in the aftermath of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, when the Shiite Hezbollah militia leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared a “divine victory” after a 33-day fight. Iran helped Hezbollah in that battle, channeling thousands of rockets and cash, in a war that both Tehran and Washington portrayed as a regional face-off.