Vahid Salemi, Associated Press
A member of Iranian Revolutionary Guard speaks on his walkie talkie while Zolfaghar surface-to-surface ballistic missiles are displayed in an annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 23, 2017. Iran used the Zolfaghar missile this week to target the Islamic State group in Syria.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. shoots down a Syrian fighter-bomber. Iran launches missiles into eastern Syria. Russia threatens to attack coalition aircraft west of the Euphrates. What is going on?
It might appear a mindless mess, but the outlines are clear. The great Muslim civil war, centered in Syria, is approaching its post-Islamic State phase. It’s the end of the beginning. The parties are maneuvering to shape what comes next.
It’s Europe, 1945, when the war was still raging against Nazi Germany, but everyone already knew the outcome. The maneuvering was largely between the approaching victors — the Soviet Union and the Western democracies — to determine postwar boundaries and spheres of influence.
So it is today in Syria. Everyone knows that the Islamic State is finished. Not that it will disappear as an ideology, insurgency and source of continuing terrorism both in the region and the West. But it will disappear as an independent, organized, territorial entity in the heart of the Middle East.
It is being squeezed out of existence. Its hold on Mosul, its last major redoubt in Iraq, is nearly gone. Raqqa, its stronghold in Syria and de facto capital, is next. When it falls — it is already surrounded on three sides — the caliphate dies.
Much of the…