Rafik Hariri Center Nonresident Senior Fellow Nabeel Khoury writes for The Cairo Review of Global Affairs on Russia’s intensifying intervention in the Syrian civil war:
A new balance of power, albeit an unstable one, has emerged in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings of 2011. The struggle for regional supremacy pits an alliance of Sunni Arab monarchies—the Gulf Cooperation Council members plus Jordan and Morocco (GCC+2) —against the Shiite regimes and militias in the Levant—Iran, Iraq, the Al-Assad regime, plus Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (Al-Hashd Al-Shabi). Internationally, the GCC+2 is supported, however reluctantly, by the United States and NATO, whereas the Shiite coalition is supported by Russia.
Syria is the battleground for both the regional and international competition between these alliances. Alongside their military efforts in Syria, both Russia and the U.S. are actively involved in trying to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war ostensibly so they can both join forces against a common enemy, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Their somewhat collaborative efforts in war and peace not withstanding, Russian and American interests are not compatible. Instead, their struggle for influence in the region is part of a new cold war of global dimensions.