A fresh policy in Syria: No-fly zone

President Obama can no longer ignore the Middle East, and especially this lethal 18-month-long crisis. The time for action has arrived.

Syrian tank 521 (photo credit: ABDALGHNE KAROOF)
Syrian tank 521
(photo credit: ABDALGHNE KAROOF)
Violence is mounting in the Middle East. Innocent civilians are being trapped by an increasingly hostile conflict with no end in sight.
Governments around the globe are calling for a cease-fire. No, I am not referring to the recent tensions between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, but rather the 18-month-old conflict in Syria.
According to The New York Times, nearly 40,000 civilians have been slaughtered, and approximately 400,000 Syrians made refugees. More Syrians have been killed during one day of the conflict – over 330 in August – than Israelis and Palestinians were during the entire recent conflict in Gaza.
The international community, and especially US President Barack Obama, has an obligation to finally act.
Just to be perfectly clear, there are no perfect solutions. Yet, a NATO-led no-fly zone is the best alternative to limit casualties on both sides.
One option to solve the conflict is to intervene military using ground troops from western nations. The advantages of this approach are that it will finally end Assad’s killing and would definitely support the Syrian opposition movement’s victory. On the other hand, following the precedent of Iraq in 2003, western infantry forces cause too many casualties. Reliable experts estimate that over 100,000 Iraqis were killed following the American invasion. This number is unacceptable.
Furthermore, as the Iraqi example demonstrates, it is much easier to enter a conflict than it is to leave with a viable long-term solution. Few governments during these difficult economic times are interested in such a protracted occupation.
A second option would be for America to not intervene directly, merely providing diplomatic and humanitarian support for the rebels. This has been the policy of the Obama administration so far. Not engaging militarily saves American lives, prevents another repeat of the 2003 Iraq war, and is a safer option.
However, inaction is also flawed. First and foremost, from an ethical perspective, watching the deaths of 40,000 innocent civilians and not acting is repugnant. The number is certainly going to increase without significant international involvement. As Nobel Prize laureate Eli Wiesel eloquently said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
In addition to the ethical considerations, Obama should intervene because of American foreign policy interests.
During the previous week, Israel and Turkey, two strong American allies in the region, have witnessed an increase in strikes into their sovereign territories originating from Syria. Although it is unclear whether these attacks are intentional, the longer the conflict persists, the more likely it becomes that an errant mortar, instead of landing in an open field, will hit a school full of children.
In Israel particularly, months before an election, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be forced to respond harshly, thereby exacerbating the conflict and risking a larger regional war.
This is a situation that must be avoided.
Additionally, many experts have maintained that although the current crisis is likely to drag on for months without a significant change, in the end the Syrian opposition will be victorious. In a post-Assad era, the opposition will not forget which nations came to its aid militarily, and which resorted to only diplomatic acts.
If America acts, it will have strong leverage over the new Syrian government, a key player in the Arab world. A successful intervention would likely shift the current Syrian alliance with Iran to a more pro-American force, similar to President Carter’s strong engagement with Egypt resulting in the 1979 Camp David Accords.
Yes, implementing a no-fly zone has drawbacks. Unlike the Libyan military during the recent NATO campaign, the Syrian Air Force is much stronger and has the potential to shoot down American and NATO planes. However, despite the potential losses, there is no doubt of America’s overall air superiority.
Secondly, a no-fly zone will not immediately end the conflict. However, neutralizing the Syrian Air Force will be a major turning point in the war and will erase one of the regime’s decisive advantages.
When military officials see a strong foreign presence, similar to the Libyan affair, many will also be likely to switch sides or flee.
Finally, a no-fly zone will require a fraction of the financial investment involved in a full ground invasion, along with a much smaller potential cost in American lives.
President Obama has long said that he prefers a pivot to Asia. While increased attention in this region is long overdue, at the same time he can no longer ignore the Middle East, and especially this lethal 18-month-long crisis. The time for action has arrived, President Obama. A no-fly zone needs to be implemented.
The author is a staff writer for The Jerusalem Review. He has written articles on international politics for The Forward and The Jerusalem Post. He has lived in Morocco, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. You can reach him via twitter @Aaron- Magid