WASHINGTON, June 12 (UPI) -- Iran, Hezbollah's chief sponsor as it helps the Syrian regime survive, is emerging as the victor in a struggle for Middle East influence, military analysts say.
As top U.S. security experts met at the White House Wednesday to assess options in light of recent setbacks of rebels attempting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, the long-term outcome of the war remained in doubt, The New York Times reported.
After Assad's forces recaptured the strategic town of Qusair last week, a battle in which the Iranian-backed Shiite militia was involved, a new reality, that the regional balance of power is tilting toward Iran, is under consideration, the newspaper noted.
"This is an Iranian fight. It is no longer a Syrian one. The issue is hegemony in the region," said Mustafa Alani, director of security and defense at the Gulf Research Council, based in Dubai. "If Iran wins this conflict and the Syrian regime survives, Iran's interventionist policy will become wider, and its credibility will be enhanced."
Speaking in Rio de Janeiro Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said attempts to arm Syrian rebels are hampering efforts to hold an international conference on the war-torn country.
"[The Syrian opposition's] statement is that the conference is possible only when the military balance on the ground is restored," Lavrov said. "But if this criterion is taken into account, we will never convene that conference."
Lavrov, visiting several South American countries this week, said such demands act "directly against the prospective conference," RIA Novosti reported.
Russian officials have said they aren't interested in Assad remaining in power, but are concerned that unilateral sanctions would create a power void, potentially leading to more violence.
At least 60 Shiite Muslim residents of Hatlah, in eastern Syria, were killed in a reprisal raid by rebels Wednesday, government and opposition spokesmen said, the latest in a series of massacres underscoring the sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict.
Anti-government activists said most of those killed were pro-government militia members who attacked the rebels Tuesday.