When the first protests were made against the Assad government, they were met with a violent show of force from the Syrian army. But rather than squashing the protests, it escalated them into more violence. This was the beginning of the Syrian Civil War.
Gradually, like a black hole of bloodshed, more and more opposition groups and foreign countries have been pulled into this conflict. And, whereas the initial protests were against the government for taking away many civil liberties, it seems that opposition groups that are fighting the Syrian government today are more about the ongoing ancient religious conflicts found within Islam.
When Mohammed, the founder of Islam, died in 632 AD, the big conflict arose within that religion over who should be his successor as the leader of Islam. From this disagreement (and some other theological differences), Islam ended up dividing into several sects, but the two largest groups were the Sunnis who make up about 90% of the Islamic population and the Shias who constitute the other 10% (roughly). These two groups hate each other almost as much as they hate Jews and Christians! And today, the Syrian Civil War is made up the Sunni rebel groups fighting against the Shia government of Bashar Assad.
Now, without boring you with the ever-changing beligerent groups and their territorial boundaries over the last six years, allow me to summarize briefly who is involved in this mess:
Syrian Government - headed by its president, Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Assad is an Alawite Muslim, a subgroup of Shia Islam.
Hezbollah - a terrorist group entrenched in the southern mountains of Lebanon along the border with Israel. They are a Shia Muslim "proxy army" of Iran, but are considered by the US as a terrorist arm of Iran. It has fought and continues to fight in support of the Syrian government.
Iran - is about 95% Shia Muslim and therefore, a strong supporter of the Syrian government.
Russia - has supported the Assad government since the beginning of the civil war with military weapons, but entered directly into the conflict militarily in Sept., 2015.
The Kurds - An ethnic group that has no official nation of its own that straddles Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, is made up of mostly Shia Muslims. Their involvement has been mostly in fighting against ISIS over disputed territories between the two. However, they have no allegiance to the Syrian government.
ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) - is one of the more recognized rebel groups fighting against the Syrian government because of its bloodthirsty cruelty against all people who are not of their belief system. They are a Sunni Muslim group.
MANY OTHER REBEL GROUPS - (too numerous to mention by name) like Ahrar al-Sham, Sham Legion, Jaysh al-Sunna, Martyrs of Islam Brigade, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Some of these groups (like the Syrian Democratic Council) are fighting for a secular government that represents all people equally. But others (like Ahrar al-sham) are fighting to establish an Islamic government ruled by Sharia Law. This second group are all Sunni Muslims.
Side 3 (Yes. There is a "Side 3".)
There are some who view neither side as acceptable.
The USA - Although the US is bitterly opposed to many of the terrorist rebel groups like ISIS and has vowed to destroy them, we also recognize that the Assad government is a dictatorial oppressor of its own people and a long-time enemy of Israel, our ally. In addition to an on-going bombing campaign against ISIS on one side, we recently blasted the Syrian Air Force on the other side with dozens of Tomahawk missiles for using chemical weapons against its opponents.
Israel - Essentially, Israel takes the same position as the US concerning the two warring sides. The difference, of course, is that Syria is a bordering neighbor of Israel, which makes their involvment much more significant to their own defense.
Bashar Assad's father, Afez Assad, was the strong-fisted dictator of Syria for about thirty years until he died in 2000. He led Syria to fight against Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He also served in the Syrian Air Force when they fought against Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and the 1967-70 War of Attrition. So, needless to say, the Syrian government has a long history as an enemy of Israel.
On top of all these groups who are directly involved in the Syrian Civil War, there are a number of countries (like Turkey, Saudia Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, etc.) who have supported the anti-Assad groups, but who have also fought against ISIS.
As I said from the beginning, it's all very confusing. Some are fighting for religious reasons. Some are fighting to maintain control of the nation of Syria. And, some are fighting for more "humanitarian" reasons against the terrorist-type groups who have no reservations about killing innocent civilians.
The size of Syria is 71,500 square miles, about the size of the state of Washington. But the capital city, Damascus, is in the SW part of the country, less than 40 miles from the Israel border. And, of course, the stronghold of Assad is in his capital city, the place where all of the warring rebels want to get to. If ISIS or any one of the rebel groups can take Damascus, they will have taken control of the country. Whether or not this civil war will eventually come down to a siege on Damascus or not is something we do not know. But with the way Assad has been so determined to hold on to his power against the onslaught of the rebels for the last six years, it seems that if he is ever overthrown, it will come down to a final fight for Damascus.
Again, we don't know if that will happen or not, but the point I want to make is that if it does, the war will be within forty miles of Israel.
Secondly, given the intense hatred that Assad has for the Jewish state, it is possible that in a final attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of the Arab countries, just before he is overthrown, he could release a barrage of missiles (some containing chemical warheads) into Israel, which could have devastating results. If those missiles were lauched from Damascus, the short distance to Israel could allow them to hit practically any part of the state.
All of this is speculation. No one but God knows how this civil war is going to end and whether or not Israel is going to be drawn into it. But, we can be sure of a couple of things... If Israel is attacked with any type of non-conventional weapon like a chemical warhead (which Syria has just shown that they still possess), she has vowed to respond AGAINST DAMASCUS with a non-conventional weapon (nuclear).
There is another thing that we know for sure is going to happen... because God has said that it will happen. The city of Damacus is going to be utterly destroyed.
Isaiah 17:1 -
The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinus heap.
Although Damascus has been conquered many times in history, it has never been utterly destroyed. This prophecy remains to be fulfilled. And, if the Syrian Civil War should spill over into Israel in any significant way, a counterattack by Israel against Damascus could certainly be its fulfillment because Israel DOES have nuclear weapons.
The next verse gives the impression that the destruction of Damascus could be from a nuclear explosion.
Isaiah 17:2 -
The cities of Aroer are forsaken: they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
The cities of Aroer" is a reference to the surrounding towns and villages around Damascus. The picture given here is that even though those towns will still exist (they won't be leveled like Damascus) and their buildings will still be standing, they will be vacant of human life. Flocks (wild goats and other animals) will wander through the streets, lying down wherever they desire and there will be no one to shoo them away. Fear of radioactive fallout from an explosion in Damascus could cause the people in those surrounding areas to flee.
There is one more aspect of the Syrian Civil War that is intriguing from a prophecy standpoint. If Israel were to attack Damascus with a nuclear weapon, they would be also attacking Russia, since the Russian military is now in Damascus. How Russia would respond to that is unsure, but we do know that Ezekiel 38-39 describes an attack on Israel by Russia and a coalition of Arab nations. We call it the "Gog of Magog War". We don't know if that war will have anything to do with what's going on in Syria now or not, but it is easy to see a scenario of war escalation from Syria that could cause an even greater conflict against Israel.
When we look at the situation in Syria and the rest of the Middle East... and, when we consider the tension between North Korea and the US right now... and, when we take note of the ongoing war with the Taliban in Afghanistan... and when we see Iran thumbing their nose at the rest of the world as they continue their pursuit of a nuclear arsenal... and when we realize that Russia is now being lead by a ruthless president who has just TAKEN the Crimean Penninsula away from the neighboring country of Ukraine without any other nation trying to stop him... and when we recognize that the US, the greatest military power in the world, is being led by a president who is not afraid to use that power... we have to conclude that the world is on the very edge of entering into another major war. We are living in a time when there are "wars and rumors of wars" (Matt. 24:6).
All of this makes me long for The Prince of Peace even more! Even so, come Lord Jesus!