Syrian protesters in Damascus_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Western military intervention is the “lesser evil” of a range of difficult
options in Syria, according to a report released last week by a UK think tank
that offers the first comprehensive analysis of a potential armed intervention
in the battle-scarred country.
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The report – entitled “Intervention in
Syria? An Assessment of Legality, Logistics and Hazards” – calls for the
creation of a political and military base for rebel fighters in the country’s
northwest, as well as humanitarian “safe zones” for civilians fleeing the
bloodshed. It also offers diplomatic avenues for authorizing military action in
spite of continued Russian opposition to taking tougher measures against
Damascus at the UN Security Council.
Violence continued in Syria on
Sunday as three people were killed and 124 injured by shelling in the flashpoint
city of Homs, human rights groups said. The head of an Arab League monitoring
team arrived in the country early in the day, but analysts and opposition
figures were skeptical if monitors would be allowed the access and freedom of
movement to accurately gauge conditions on the ground.
estimates say the ninemonth crackdown waged by forces loyal to President Bashar
Assad has killed at least 5,000 people nationwide. The United States, European
Union, UN General Assembly and Assad’s former ally Turkey have all condemned the
The report cites the northwest Syrian province of Idlib as a
potential location for a rebel military, political and communications hub, which
could play a role comparable to that of Benghazi in helping Libya’s Transitional
National Council oust strongman Muammar Gaddafi in October.
creation of such a base, the report says, Syria’s air defenses would first need
to be neutralized as they were in the 2007 air strike – widely attributed to
Israel – that destroyed a suspected Syrian nuclear facility at Deir
Turkey’s NATO-leased Incirlik Air Base, it continues, could be
the launch point for such an attack.
The report was authored by Michael
Weiss, communications director and acting research director at the Henry Jackson
Society in London.
“I would say better to have a multilateral,
Western-fronted coalition on the ground to forestall the worst-case scenario
rather than let this play out on the ground,” Weiss said by phone. “People in
Syria have been holding up signs saying ‘NATO, where’s our no-fly zone?’ You see
women in hijabs in Homs with signs saying ‘We want NATO to invade.’ I would
hazard that there is now a critical mass of support for a Western-backed
A week ago the opposition Syrian National Council issued a
statement calling for the UN Security Council to help impose a no-fly zone and
humanitarian corridors to aid civilians. But council authorization has remained
elusive amid demands from Russia, Syria’s main arms supplier, that any
resolution place equal blame for the violence on the government and
“The likelihood of securing a United Nations Security Council
resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria is remote given Russian and
Chinese recalcitrance to support the Syrian revolution,” the report says. “UNSC
deadlock could potentially be circumvented by invoking the ‘Uniting for Peace’
resolution (377A), which was used to authorize the ‘use of armed force’ in Korea
as a way of evading UNSC obstructionism by the then-Soviet Union.”
there the political will to do this? I don’t know,” Weiss said. “Everyone’s got
Arab Spring fatigue and regime change fatigue. The United States has been more
than sluggish on Syria – it doesn’t care. That was made clear by how long
it took the Obama administration to denounce Assad... Obama has more or less
outsourced handling Syria to Turkey – I think that’s a colossal
Even with the necessary political will, the challenges involved
in an intervention are significant. Syria has a 300,000- strong active army and
a reserve force of 450,000, though army defections – currently estimated at
1,000-3,500 – are on the rise. Forces from Hezbollah and the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard are known to be operating in the country, and would almost
certainly attempt to attack any Western troops entering its
The report says Syria could be expected to seize on any
Western intervention to try to ignite its border with Israel.
interventionist force must therefore persuade Israel not to retaliate in the
event that it is attacked,” it says. “Such forbearance proved successful during
the First Gulf War, and it can be argued that it is in Israel’s strategic
interest to assist in the removal of the Assad regime.
such a campaign can only come if the objectives are clearly articulated from the
outset, and if they are publicly endorsed by other Arab and Muslim-majority
nations as well as by the bulk of the international community,” the report
continues. “The Syrian people have amply demonstrated a heroic willingness to
risk more bloodshed to secure their freedom and a marked indifference to regime
accusations that they are the hirelings of Western ‘imperialism.’” Weiss said at
least half-a-million people – out of a total population of 23 million – had been
irretrievably affected by the government’s crackdown.
“Let this go on for
a few months, and what happens when it gets to one or two million?” he said.
“All of these people have family members, distant family and friends who have
been killed or dispossessed of their land. It’s a failed state – there’s no
going back after this.”