That is how, 20 years ago, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levi described the war in Bosnia as the “Spanish Civil War of our time”, arguing European fascism had been resurrected in the form of criminal Serbian nationalism.

Levi’s view proved to be over-exaggerated. Bosnia was a conflict of armed nationalisms – Croatian and Serbian – with a fledgling and barely armed, and thus much less dangerous, Bosnian nationalism. While that conflict resulted in the massacre in Srebrenica, the first act of genocide on European soil since the Second World War, fascism today has a stronger presence in the western part of the continent (with the notable exception of Greece and its Golden Dawn movement).

Another reason that Bosnia was not the “Spanish Civil War of our time” is because it was the democracies, rather than the foreign supporters of Karadžić and Mladić, that eventually intervened, ending Serbian dreams of victory and forcing the warring parties to conclude an unhappy peace.

Today, Syria is being described as the “new Bosnia”, a view stressing the world’s inaction in the face of a rapidly growing death toll. In reality, however, Syria is rather the new 1930s Spain, due to the heavy involvement of third parties in the conflict.

Key Russian support

The Bashar al-Assad regime would not survive without Russian diplomatic support, Iranian arms supplies, and cannon fodder provided by Hezbollah from Lebanon. Last Sunday, for the first time, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said victory for Assad was crucial for the future of Lebanon and the success of the Palestinian movement. He called Assad’s opponents takfiris, or apostates (the Assad-supporting Alawites are in themselves an unorthodox branch of Shia Islam), and pledged to continue fighting to the very end.

In response, three missiles were fired into the Hezbollah-controlled part of Beirut. One of the Syrian resistance leaders warned that, if the Lebanese army did not put Hezbollah in its place, “we will do it ourselves”. The war has already spilled beyond Syria’s borders, notably when, two weeks ago, two car bomb explosions killed at least 51 people and wounded 140 in the Turkish border town of Reyhanlı, the deadliest act of terrorism ever to occur on Turkish soil. Syrian intelligence forces, or their allies, are expected to be behind the attack, rather than of the anti-Assad rebels.

Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are today’s functional equivalent to the Spanish Civil War era’s “Fascintern” [a pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan to coordinate the development of fascism throughout the world, in response to the Soviet-led international communism]. However, unlike in Spain in the 1930s, it is Syria’s government, rather than its armed opponents, that represents dictatorship.

The rebels, in turn, have been supported by the “Sunnintern”, that is, an unspoken international coalition of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar which has supplied them with funds, arms, and volunteers.

‘A hard nut to crack’

The democracies, as usual, are divided. The EU, unable to work out a common position, decided not to prolong an arms embargo. It should be expected that in the summer, after the Russia and US-sponsored peace talks have failed, the United Kingdom and France will begin supplying arms to the insurgents.

In the diplomatic battlefield, Hezbollah has already suffered a defeat, as it will likely be added to the EU list of terrorist organisations for a bus bombing on EU soil in Bulgaria in 2012. However, the real reason for the terrorist classification is Hezbollah’s armed support for the EU-condemned regime in Syria.

Yet the “Sunnintern’s” democratic allies have a hard nut to crack. Just as the communists were the main military force of the Spanish Republic, in Syria the role is being increasingly assumed by Al-Qaeda, along with its Iraqi counterparts. Back in the 1930s, it was because of their anti-communism that Britain and France refused to support Spanish republicans in their fight against the fascists, and realised the gravity of their error a few years later, when they themselves were attacked by Nazi Germany. Today, however, the West is not facing a war with Shia Islam, but rather with the Sunni extremism it has been fighting for years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in the streets of its own cities.

With every massacre, the case for overthrowing Assad becomes more and more convincing. The problem is that the case for supporting his opponents does not, even though the strategy of doing nothing becomes itself less and less defensible. Syria is indeed the Spain of our time.