rubble in Qusair 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two-and-a-half years after the war kicked off in Syria the debate rages on over
whether the West should get involved or stay out of the brutal
Some of the arguments presented against intervention are merely
political excuses to justify a policy of determined inaction. The Obama
administration’s refusal to react strongly to a breach of its self-declared
chemical weapons “red line” is a case in point. Other arguments against Western
involvement are based on a mixture of oversimplification and misconception. And
still others are legitimate concerns which should be taken into careful
The most common misconception, which has gained popularity
over the cause of the war, is that secular Bashar Assad, sometimes absurdly
portrayed as the guardian of minorities, is fighting against Islamist rebels.
This analysis is flawed on several counts.
Firstly, the opposition is not
a homogenous entity. The Islamists were not the ones who started the revolution.
They hijacked it, enabled by desperate people who turned to them simply because
there was no one else to turn to. When you look hunger and death in the face you
no longer care who provides your security. The instinct for survival is stronger
than any political or religious ideology and alliance.
Secondly, the war
is no longer between Assad and the rebels; it is now between Assad, Iran and
Hezbollah and the rebels and, to a certain extent, their respective
international and regional backers like Russia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In other
words, Syria has become a geopolitical hot spot.
Not only are Iranian
special forces fighting on behalf of Assad, but over 4,000 Hezbollah militiamen
have already poured into the country. On top of that, Assad receives support
from Moscow which committed to send the advanced S-300 air-defence system to
Syria, capable of grounding commercial planes over Tel Aviv.
the Islamist-ridden FSA may not be a pretty option but to allow Iran, the
greatest risk to peace and number one sponsor of international terrorism, and
its proxy Hezbollah to take control of ever larger parts of Syria is hardly a
more attractive scenario.
Especially now that we are approaching the
moment where we will have to make difficult decisions over the future of Iran’s
nuclear program, we should do everything in our power to weaken and not
strengthen the regime in Tehran.
Further to that, it would also not
resolve the Islamist problem. Instead of Sunni extremism we would just be
looking at Shia extremism. Consider the vigilant persecution of Christians in
Iran or Hezbollah’s promise to annihilate Jews and it becomes abundantly clear
that Assad’s backers pose just as much a threat to Syria’s minorities as the
Sunni extremists within the opposition.
Let’s face it: Syria is not only
a heartbreaking humanitarian crisis, it is a geopolitical nightmare and a
serious threat to our long-term national interests and security
The question is what can and should be done.
The bad news
is that intervention should have taken place long ago. The window for meaningful
action is rapidly closing, if it is not closed already. The West’s inaction has
allowed our enemies to push us into a corner to a point where we only have a
choice between bad and worse options.
Arming the opposition will not do
the trick. In fact, legitimate concerns have been raised over sending heavy
weapons to the rebels, in particular without additional policies in place, such
as a no-fly zone. It poses a risk not only because weapons could end up in the
wrong hands but because it would likely prolong and not end the war. In other
words, it would violate the most crucial criteria for all humanitarian
interventions: to recognize our limitations and not make things worse.
we get involved in Syria, we must get it right and it will require more than a
loose commitment and half-hearted support for the opposition. In a first step,
the West should make it unequivocally clear that our goal is to bring down
Assad, who has lost all legitimacy to rule as a sovereign
Secondly, we must send arms to the rebels only in combination
with a nofly zone, which would provide us with the necessary strategic tool to
support the secular and moderate opposition groups on the ground and enable them
to take control of key areas. In addition, a no-fly zone would significantly
reduce the death toll, since Assad’s forces are killing primarily from the air,
and would establish safe havens for the civilian population.
close cooperation with Turkey and Jordan is required to build strong,
centralized FSA commands, capable of attacking Damascus from the north and south
and seize control over other major cities, such as Homs, Deraa and Qusair. It
would also provide us with an opportunity to split Islamist militia into
regional groups and reduce their impact on the overall outcome of the
Either way, the future looks grim for Syria. But no matter
how grim, it is still our humanitarian duty and in our long-term national
security interests to get involved. Imagine what message it would send to
dictatorships across the globe, if Assad was to get away with the mass-slaughter
of almost 100,000 people. After Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, it would engrave yet
another scar on the consciousness of the free world. And to let Syria fall into
the iron grip of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia would be the worst expression of
Chamberlainian appeasement policy and Kissingerian realpolitik we have seen in a
long time.The writer is executive director of the Humanitarian
Intervention Centre, London.