As violence worsens, neighboring countries, and perhaps even the U.S., could get drawn in.
Syrian tanks are seen in Bab Amro near the city of Homs / Reuters
Many more wars have resulted from miscalculation than deliberate planning, and mounting blunders in recent weeks have significantly raised the likelihood that violence in Syria will continue to escalate, drawing the United States and its allies ever closer to direct involvement in another bloody conflict. The crisis is already careening toward the one red-line that could make direct outside intervention all but inevitable: an all-out civil war that ignites in the heart of the Middle East, and threatens to spread along the region's already smoldering ethnic and sectarian divides.
"What gets lost in all the talk of Syria being like Libya is that it's located at the very epicenter of inter-Arab and Arab-Israeli politics," said Aram Nerguizian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Already, the Syrian crisis has prompted regional actors to take sides in what could easily shape up as a proxy war, he noted, with majority Sunni states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf states lining up behind the mostly Sunni Syrian opposition, and Shiite majority Iran and Iraq backing the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam.
"We're a far cry from last year when this started as a peaceful opposition movement, and as the crisis has become more violent and complex, the risks of a proxy war that breaks Syria apart and destabilizes the entire region has grown significantly," Nerguizian said. "When you consider the history of neighboring nations where civil wars led to the loss of power for minorities - specifically, Lebanon in the 1980s and Iraq more recently - it doesn't bode well for Syria."