Early in Syria’s civil war, before the emergence of the Islamic State, the battle lines seemed clear. A local opposition was challenging an entrenched regime for the keys to Damascus. It soon became obvious, however, that neither side could win by themselves, and both dragged in allies whose ensuing battle for a broader supremacy has torn the country apart.
The ramifications have been profound. At stake now, more than four years into the war, is far more than who gets to control Syria. The war is unlocking a regional order established almost a century ago. And two prominent forces, neither of them state actors, have emerged as power players.