Scuds in Syria

The regime’s moves could be seen as an escalation – the US has termed them a “significant escalation” – or as a prelude to the use of chemical weapons, but they could also be seen as acts of desperation.

December 13, 2012 21:51
3 minute read.
Satellite view of suspect sites in Syria [file]

Satellite images of suspect sites in Syria 370 (R). (photo credit: Reuters / Handout)


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Things appear to be coming to a head in Syria. Earlier this week US President Barack Obama declared the Syria Opposition Council as the “legitimate representative” of the country.

“With that recognition comes responsibilities to make sure that they organize themselves effectively,” he said.

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He also admonished them to respect women and minority rights. And France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has been behind a major push to encourage international recognition of Syria’s rebel groups.

Some of this seems to be a replay of high hopes for the rebels in the past. Each time they have managed to bring the fight to Damascus, as they have also done this week, there has been a great deal of talk about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s “days being numbered.”

The rebel groups remain without a charismatic leader who is widely recognized and accepted as a unifier. The opposition to Assad is fractured between those Western countries that do not want to see an Islamist takeover of the country and those in Qatar and Saudi Arabia whose support for the rebels seem less selective.

At Thursday’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, former air force commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ido Nehushtan expressed concern regarding Syria.

“The global jihad is there. Iran and Hezbollah are heavily invested. The danger of chemical that it could fall into the wrong hands. This is a nightmare not only for Israel and other neighbors, but for the entire world,” he said.

Nehushtan made an interesting reference to the Sykes-Picot state system in the Middle East, referring to a 1916 agreement that laid the groundwork for British and French policy in the Levant and led to the current borders between Syria and its neighbors. The notion is that the Syria civil conflict represents a fundamental break with the past, and what follows could lay the groundwork for new Middle Eastern structures.

This comes on top of reports that Syria’s president is using Scud missiles and incendiary bombs against the rebels and civilians and that the rebels are beginning to manufacture their own armored cars. The regime’s moves could be seen as an escalation – the US has termed them a “significant escalation” – or as a prelude to the use of chemical weapons, but they could also be seen as acts of desperation.

The Scuds being used are not an effective military weapon, and they were used in such limit quantities – reports say six were fired – that they will have no affect on the conflict except to endanger civilians. Terming it a major escalation seems more of an important declarative statement supporting the rebels than reflecting a military escalation, since using Scud missiles is not a worse act than using tanks and bombs against civilians, something the regime has been doing for a year and a half.

Is Washington laying the groundwork for increased support of the rebels in the wake of rebel groups meeting in Morocco and securing greater international legitimacy? This should concern Israel, for the most important outcome of the Syrian civil war must be stability on the northern border.

Assad’s regime formed part of a crescent of Iranian influence that fueled the Hezbollah war machine. The rebel movements tend to be Sunni and their Islamist elements are fanatically anti-Iranian. Those same radical Islamist elements, however, are precisely the ones that must not come to power.

Syria and the current constitutional crisis in Egypt must teach all of those seeking regional stability that it is in no one’s interest to have a chaotic transition of power wherein a narrow Sunni Islamist coalition that is well organized can use the weakness of more secular nationalist groups to seize power.

The United States and interested European countries should consider that the Saudi and Qatari agenda may be the creation of another overtly Islamic state. This not only threatens all the minorities in Syria, such as the Druse, Christians, Alawites and Kurds, but will add fuel to sectarian fires in Iraq and Lebanon and might destabilize Jordan.

A responsible transition therefore should include the creation of bureaucratic and institutional frameworks before the fall of Assad, and a plan for how to usher Assad out of power without encouraging him to fight to the last man in some sort of ill-conceived bittereinder redoubt in Latakia, the home of many of the country’s Alawites, the coreligioists of Assad.

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