What Does the Future Hold for Syria?
The civil war in Syria continues to drag on tragically, nearing its third year. With thousands of lives lost and at least one million refugees fleeing to neighboring countries, Syria is no longer a viable country.
There are common electricity outages, food shortages, half of the buildings destroyed, including many hospitals, massive dislocation of its population-internally and externally, and a civilian death toll of over 70,000, which continues to increase.
One of the hardest hit cities has been Aleppo, the largest in Syria. Being a major battleground for both sides since the outset of the war, it continues to struggle as fighting rages on (“The Extent of the Suffering”, 2 Apr. 2013).
The battle also continues to intensify in Damascus, with the combat activity increasing in suburbs as rebels attempt to encircle the city. A recent bombing of the Damascus central square, which houses the Syrian State Television building, has served to exacerbate matters further (McElroy, 28 March 2014).
It appears to many observers that the rebel strategy is to cordon off the perimeter of the city, controlling the suburbs before moving into the city center with the intent of overthrowing the Assad government. If correct, it stands to last several months longer before any resolution, with more loss of civilian lives and refugees flowing into neighboring Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
Meanwhile, the opposition force does not have a united front or defined stable leadership, being fragmented by its different factions. The West is reluctant to give money to Islamic fundamentalist segments within the rebels. Also, increasing the amount of weapons coming into the country could fuel sectarian violence (“Momentum Weakened…” 23 March 2013).
The U.N. Security Council has been at a deadlock since 2011 with, China and Russia opposing any sanctions or any condition that would realize the expulsion of Assad. The U.N. envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has pleaded with the U.N. to take action to resolve this matter (Charbonneau, 29 January 2013).
Later, Brahimi stated that more weapons is not the answer:
“Pouring more arms to the opposition would bring more arms to the government and that will not solve the problem…What really needs to be done is to work effectively, all of us — Syrians, the region, and the international community — for a political solution to the conflict — that is the only help.” (Brahimi says arming rebels… 30 March. 2013)
The situation becomes further complicated by continued support of the Assad regime by Iran, Russia and Iraq. Cargo transport, which is presumed to include possible weapons shipments, continues to flow into Syria by way of truck and plane from Iraq, prompting expressed concern from U.S. Sect. of State John Kerry. However, response from Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, who has expressed regular sympathies and maintained strong ties with Iran, was less than assuring (Yetkin, 1 April 2013).
Anticipation of possible U.S. military action, as well as utilization of forces from neighboring countries, grows as the war within Syrian borders continues to escalate.
On 30 March 2011, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu about the increasing violence (Yetkin, 1 April 2013).
Kerry, in calling his Turkish counterpart, is thought to be building on a potential warming of relationships between Turkey and Israel after the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s formal apology on 22 March 2013, over the Mavi Marmara indecent of May 31st, 2010.
With NATO missile batteries deployed already in the area, NATO and Turkish involvement in Syria remains a question throughout the region. Turkey has indicated that the missiles are solely for self-defense purposes and not for firing upon targets in Syria. Additionally, there are no firm plans from NATO for an intervention in Syria.
Analysts predict three possible scenarios, given the present situation:
1) The Assad government will negotiate a settlement.
2) The rebels will over-throw the government without direct intervention from foreign powers.
3) A coalition made up of the U.S.A, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and others will intervene and assist in establishing a new government.
Of the first two scenarios, it has been stated by Quinn and Madhav (6 January 2013) in Foreign Affairs that a negotiated settlement could be the most likely and provide the most stability for Syria:
“..if the rebels were going to achieve a decisive military victory, they would have done so by now. The real options left there are quite narrow. The Alawites, the religious minority loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, are also not likely to achieve a military victory. Even if they were able to defeat the rebels, it would be a temporary lull. Instead, leaders in Damascus could offer amnesty to the rebels to initiate negotiations for a formal cease-fire, which would include international monitoring and peacekeeping troops. That would create the space to begin a slow, deliberate process of formal mediation that addresses all of the major conflict issues.”
Given the largely fragmented nature of the opposition and relative military and political strength of the Assad regime, it is predicted that a negotiated settlement is a likely scenario. However, a rebel take-over should not be completely ruled out despite appearing to be the less likely of the two scenarios.
The third scenario, an invasion of Syria by a coalition of forces being led by the U.S. remains a possibility, albeit unlikely and largely unpopular with the American people. However some indications that the U.S. is setting the stage for an invasion, as mentioned earlier, by using Turkey as its primary agent in the region, is still a possibility.
However an invasion, aside from basic political difficulties faces addition challenges:
1) Israeli use of Turkish air space in case of refueling and emergency landings may be prevented by Turkish authorities regardless of a warming of relationships.
2) The use of Turkish troops to invade and occupy may not bode well with the Syrian population, given past grievances over border issues between the two.
3) The overthrow of the government may create a power vacuum with no clear successor government, which may lead into a civil war between all factions as the U.S. found in Iraq.
The immediate future looks grim for Syria. With little cause to believe that either side is edging toward any place where they would be willing to negotiate, a settlement between the Assad regime and Syrian rebels appears unlikely.
Any potential invasion of Syria remains treacherous for the U.S. ,as well as unlikely, without the U.N. Security Council approval and NATO cooperation. Additionally, given the serious drop in international popularity following the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. remains wary of entering any similar situations. However, potential triggers for it could be the use of chemical weapons or biological agents by the Assad regime. Though there is bound to be a resolution, it is unlikely to be without further bloodshed and turmoil for the people of Syria.
“Brahimi says arming rebels will ‘not solve the problem’ in Syria.” UPI.com. 30 March 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
Charbonneau, Louis. “Syria breaking up before everyone’s eyes: envoy tells U.N.” Reuters. 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
“The Extent of the Suffering.” The Economist (blog). 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.
Gray, Melissa, and Greg Botelho. “NATO: Patriot Missile Battery Operational on Syrian Border.” CNN. Cable News Network, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.
McAdams, Michael A. “Israel Apologizes to Turks with a Push from Obama, but Why Now?” The Progressive Press. Web. 23 March 2013. 04 Apr. 2013.
McElroy, Damien, and Ruth Sherlock. “Syrian Rebels ‘attack Damascus University'” The Telegraph, 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
Momentum Weakened for Assad’s Ouster in Syria.” The Associated Press., 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
“NATO Has Contingency Plans for Syria, US Admiral States.” The Times of Israel. 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.
Quinn, J. Michael, and Madhav Joshi. “Settling Syria: Why a Negotiated Peace Is Possible — And Likely.” Global. Foreign Affairs, 6 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.
“Syria: The Death of a Country.” The Economist, 23 Feb. 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.
Yetkin, Murat. “US and Turkey Discuss Iraq, Syria over the Weekend.” Hurriyet Daily News. 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.
(Featured image from www.osundefender.org)