Friday, May 10, 2013

Syrian Intervention

This essay is an attempt to understand the policy options to be made for Syria. 

The Syrian Civil War has passed its two years mark and it is not ending soon. Up to 80,000 people have been killed in this conflict and millions are displaced. It is a terrible situation for the people of Syria.

The calls for military intervention by the West have grown these past few weeks as the killings produces more casualties.

The critical question is whether more muscular intervention by the West will make the situation better.

Up to this moment Syrian Civil War have seen military supply intervention from Russia, Iran, Hezbollah-Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait. Fighters from Iran and Hezbollah takes the side of the Assad regime and fighters from Iraq, Egypt and other Arab countries have responded for the call for Jihad there. Israel has taken some opportunistic bombing on behalf of its own interest in the country.


The civil war has forced over one million Syrians out of their country - travelling by buses and on foot to the neighboring countries such as Turkey (300K) to the North or Jordan (400K) to the South or Lebanon (200K) to the West.

Jordan and Lebanon are particularly vulnerable to the destabilizing effects of massive influx of refugees. Jordan is a small country with limited resources and Lebanon is a ethnic/ideological tinderbox of the Middle East. Hezbollah, a major Shiite faction in Lebanon has openly supported the Assad regime with fighters and in return they are being rewarded by military materials. The bombing of Syria by Israel are related to this issue.

Egypt also receives a large number of Syrian refugees (150K), especially those that have the financial means to make the long trip. You can hear Syrian Arabic being spoken in places in Cairo and there are many Syrian food places are opening as well, improving the gastronomic quotation of the city immensely.

The population of Syria is around 21 million people. That means over 20 millions of people are still living in the country under the constant threat of violence and dire economic situation.

One thing is clear, this civil war is not going to end anytime soon and its impacts are going to take years to heal and recover before the fabric of the country can be made whole again.

The Assad regime has proven to be resilient in the face of the rebellions in many parts of the country. The support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have managed to stave off immediate threats to its capital Damascus and make the West reluctant to intervene militarily to the cause of the rebel.

The Syrian army has an estimated 11,000 armored fighting vehicles and around 800 aircraft, the rebel has small weaponry and barely any heavy weapons. War is more than just bravery and skills, it is also about materials and logistics. Statistically you cannot expect to attack a main battle tank with your AK-47 and be victorious in the end.

No Fly Zone
The request for "No Fly Zone"  you are hearing in the media is misleading. The original No Fly Zone was established on Northern Iraq and Southern Iraq to protect the rebellious areas from being slaughtered by Saddam Hussein's air force.

What being asked is the Libyan style "No Fly Zone", which is a No Fly Zone in name only. What NATO did in Libya is both air supremacy and ground attack operations. They prevent the Libyan air force to take to the sky and bombs any tanks or armored vehicles that are threatening any rebel held city and positions.

An Iraqi style No Fly Zone in Syria would help the civilian populations in the rebel held territories but it does not prevent them from artillery. This nasty weapon have the range of 20KM and can level a section of a city in minutes and obliterates whatever living being inside the targeted area.

What the rebel needs is a mighty air force capable of rendering the Syrian Air Force useless and bomb the shit of Syrian army positions which includes bases and checkpoints.


In lieu of an air force, they need weapons capable of extracting heavy cost on Syrian Air Force such as shoulder held anti airplane missiles. They also need anti tank weapons capable of destroying Syrian army heavily armored vehicles. They need a lot of these weapons.

The problem is off course obvious. A shoulder anti air missile effective against a Syrian Air Force jet fight will also works against commercial airlines. You cannot control where the weapons you are distributing will end up. Forget about it. They cannot be controlled. Just pay attention to the destabilizing effects of the Libyan intervention to the surrounding regions. Weapons in Libya ends up in Mali which fueled the Tuareg rebellion that took over most of the country until the French ended the shenanigan a few months ago. There are many reports of foiled weapon smuggling from Libya to Egypt destined for the restive North Sinai.

Let's not even talk about motivation. These advanced and sophisticated weapons worth a lot of money. Any honest Syrian rebel will be very tempted to resold these weapons in order to feed their family, who wouldn't?

On the other hand, these heavy weapons are already arriving, albeit in much slower rate, by funding of Gulf states such as Qatar's and Saudi Arabia. We have seen the results in the downing of several Syrian army helicopters and jets. Regardless of a Western intervention, weapons and ammunition are arriving, especially towards Islamist rebel factions. These supplies might be enough to sustain the rebels' operation for a long time but not enough to turn the tide and reach a tipping point to a collapse of the Syrian regime. This points to a long and protracted civil war with ever increasing civilian casualties.

So make no mistakes, the Syrian war has already had a destabilizing effect to the Middle East in regards of weapons distribution regardless of Western intervention.  Weapons are getting into Syria right now and it will get out of Syria, uncontrollably, in the future.

Rebelling alone

No countries so far have intervened directly to the cause of rebels. Turkey has adamantly refused to be dragged in to the conflict. The  Sunni dominated countries with power militaries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia have so far manage to only produce blusters and condemnation. The Gulf states have contributed money, which is crucial, to support the rebels' supplies but not much else beyond that. NATO have limited itself to 'non lethal' support such as communication equipment and body armors, which are useful, but still below what is needed to turn the tide.

What the rebels have though the number of people willing to fight and die for its cause, especially those that respond to the call of Jihad. Fighters from Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and other parts of the world are piling into Syria to fight the regime.

The rebels do not have enough weapons and supplies but they have constant infusion of new fighters to replace killed fighters.

Decision time

There are three type of decisions can be made by the West at this point that will affect the turn of events in Syria:
  • Stay its current course of non military intervention. Let the civil war burn itself up and pray that some sort of stability will emerge from the ruin of the country. This is the most cost effective option. Most likely the Assad regime will survive the rebellion. 
  • Supply weapons. The civil war will escalate rapidly and the rebels will be able to inflict much more damage to the regime's forces. The civil war will probably take a while longer to end and there is a good chance that the Assad regime will be removed from the country.
  • Wage an air war against Assad's regime. The Assad regime will collapse somewhat quickly but the civil war will continue for a while longer as various factions fight out for the spoils of victor. Impose a regional peace keeping force based from Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the country to maintain order in the interim and back it by a strong regional mandate. It is important that the peace keeping force comes from the countries that speak the Arabic language.
Above options are off course simplistic but regardless of the course of actions to be chosen, the wound of the Syrian civil war will scar the country for decades.

Staying out the conflict and hoping that the civil war ends with a resolution soon can indeed be a valid policy option regardless of the optics.

Unless a coalition of Arab countries can be formed to supply both weapons and soldiers to maintain order post intervention, waging air war against Assad regime by the West is a terrible choice of action.

[Update 1]

However I incline to think that the rebels' cause is very much worth supporting and the Syrian regime has lost its right to rule the country. Supply them with necessary weapons and ammunition and reduce the gap of their military equipment within a short time. Let them to sort out what country they want to be themselves after the fall of the Assad regime. 

1 comment:

Jesse said...

nice analysis. you can soon start your own magazine