Paul Greenberg

The bloody war-by-proxy continues in Syria. It pits the embattled, increasingly desperate but still determined and far from defeated dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad against a disorganized amalgam of rebels, aka the Free Syrian Army. Each has its own array of sponsors, enablers or just cheerleaders behind them. The cast of this tragedy also includes a multitude of not-so-innocent bystanders waiting to see how it will end, if it ever does.

Syria's strongman, who's no longer as strong as he once was, can count on support from Iran's fanatical regime, a world headquarters of terror with various branches. Chief among them is Hezbollah, which supplements its terrorism with an appealing social-welfare program, much as the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi for short) did in 1930s Germany.

In today's Middle East, Hezbollah has already taken over a large swath of Lebanon and is now in control of a belt of Syrian villages along the road that the most sophisticated weapons in Iran's armory take on their way to Hezbollah strongholds in southern Syria and Lebanon. Israel has responded, not for the first time, by interdicting that route, bombing arms caches in Syria, which include sophisticated rockets that the Israelis fear are on their way to Hezbollah's bases on its border, the better to be used against them.

A number of Arab states grow alarmed at Iran's troublemaking but seem unable to do anything about it, for the Arab world is in its usual disarray. Ditto the Europeans and Americans, who continue to aid the rebels in Syria, kind of, but have been unable to sort out freedom-fighters from terrorists.

Meanwhile, the mullahs in Iran grow closer every day to having a nuclear weapon of their own. Soon enough Israel may have to contend with the equivalent of a nuclearized North Korea in its neighborhood. The threat to its existence couldn't be clearer, Iran's leaders having vowed to wipe the Jewish state off the map.

Oh, yes, there's another factor in this bloody calculus: Syria's people also play a role in this war -- as targets, pawns and innocent victims blown apart every day. God help them because nobody else seems about to. Not in any decisive way. The West has responded to this ever more tragic crisis with a plenitude of words but precious little action. With predictable results: The last and necessarily vague estimate of the death toll in Syria surpassed 70,000 some time ago, and the number of displaced fleeing the country is put at half a million and climbing.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.