'It's now or never for a Syrian no-fly zone'
03 September 2012
Anthony Tucker-Jones warns that without a Western-led no-fly zone President Assad may yet tough out the Syrian rising
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that the creation of a no-fly zone to protect humanitarian buffer zones around Syria is on NATO's agenda. There were caveats to this, however, with Dempsey clarifying that any enforcement would be inside Turkey or Jordan, currently home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The Syrian National Council, Syria's main opposition group, continues to call for these measures within Syria in the face of the Syrian government's overwhelming air supremacy.
Turkey says that it cannot cope with more than 100,000 refugees and argues that the UN needs to set up a safe haven inside Syria as a way of stemming the gathering tide. There are currently an estimated 80,000 Syrians are in Turkey and a further 2.5 million people needing help within Syria. Any such haven would of course require an enforced no-fly zone to protect these civilians, especially as Syrian government aircraft have been bombing villages near the northern border with Turkey.
To dash any hopes of some sort of UN-sponsored military intervention, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned that it would be near impossible to get UN Security Council approval for Turkey's proposed humanitarian buffer zones. China and Russia will simply not sign up to such a move.
While the international community continued to procrastinate over the opportunity to place a no-fly zone, Jisr al-Shughour and neighbouring Idlib, near Syria's northern border, were lost as the Syrian government reasserted control. This also meant that the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) was unable to cut the main north-south highway - a vital lifeline for the Syrian armed forces which passes through Aleppo, Hama and Homs en route to Damascus.
At the beginning of the year, after the army drove the FSA from Homs, Idlib and Deraa, it seemed as if the rebels had nowhere to run. Denied international support the FSA was rapidly running out of options, remarkably though the rebellion then flared up in Aleppo and Damascus. In recent weeks the FSA has been ousted from the Damascus suburb of Daraya and from three districts in Aleppo, yet the fighting continues.
It is clear as things currently stand neither side in Syria's civil war has the resources to deliver a knockout blow. President Bashar al-Assad has rejected any external solution for his country's crisis and has said he needs more time to win. This acknowledges that his forces are stretched thin having had to maintain a high operational tempo for the past 18 months.Comparisons with Libya
Implementing any Western-backed military intervention would be no easy feat. In Libya the goals of the no-fly zone were relatively simple: Having successfully thrown off the shackles of Colonel Gaddafi's regime the people of Benghazi and Tobruk needed protection. While the spin-off was that the no-fly zone gave heart to those seeking regime change, its rolling support of the rebellion was implicit, rather than explicit.
Syria is completely different. While the fighting in Libya was predominantly in the country's littoral zone the Syrian rising has no discernible frontlines. Also, in contrast with Libya, Syria's coastal zone is the heartland of Assad's Alawite regime, with their strongholds in the port towns of Latakia and Tartous.
To defend Tripoli Gaddafi was largely reliant on the 32nd or Khamis Brigade which was around 10,000 strong. Once this unit collapsed it was all over. Assad has a core of 100,000 men spearheaded by the Republican Guard, 4th Armoured Division and his special forces. The Syrian air force has also come into play increasingly in recent months with helicopters and jets being used to pound the rebels.Alternatives to the UN route
The only alternate option outside a UN mandate would be an international coalition of the willing consisting of Western nations and their allies. France has already indicated that the political will exists for such a move. In addition, the involvement of Egypt, openly siding with the rebels, may yet prove to be a key development.
The French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was the first senior French official to raise the possibility of military action by an "international coalition" rather than through the UN.
Washington has made it clear that it considers the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime a red line that would spark a military reaction. America has reportedly been pre-positioning bio-hazard equipment in Turkey should a response be required.
In the meantime the Free Syrian Army can only conclude that the international community is all talk and no action and cares little for the suffering of the Syrian people.
HAVE YOUR SAY
03 September 2012
What view do the suicide bombers and other jihadists take - or are we're supposed to assume that those champions of democratic values come under the umbrella of the so-called "Free Syrian Army"? And what mandate does the self-appointed "Syrian National Council" have, exactly?
Stan - York
03 September 2012
The FSA are behind a lot of that suffering. Aleppo was intact before they decided to fight a battle in it.
"The people" or here "the Syrian people" is a much abused phrase. It suggests they're all one homogenous, same-thinking, "suffering" group. Assad's regime hasn't collapsed because he still has much support amongst "the Syrian people" - because they're not that.
Jeremy - Newcastle
30 September 2012
The "no fly zones" that were imposed in Iraq after the Gulf War did'nt protect anybody, they just gave Saddam Hussein something to complain about.
I don't think anyone wants or expects to see a repeat of what happened in Libya on a bigger scale. The memory of the Libyan intervention is, if anything, a problem in the present situation. If the Syrian military go down fighting, they can take a lot of people with them, that's clear. Even in Libya, the death toll was considerable.
By isolating the Assad regime politically and economically, while maintaining covert action in support of the opposition movement, it should be possible to create a situation in which transition to a more representative form of government comes to be seen as inevitable by all the parties involved, with the possible exceptions of Russia and Iran, who need the Assad regime for their own strategic reasons. Of course, the Assad regime, anticipating this stuation, may attempt to escalate the conflict, perhaps by using chemical weapons- if they still have enough authority to do that. It appears to me that the Russians are in the driving seat now.
J. Southworth - University of Hull