Prospects For Military Intervention in Syria
Andrei AKULOV | 13.07.2012 | WORLD

Prospects For Military Intervention in Syria

At the end of June Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared his country to be in a «state of war». He was speaking after the downing of a Turkish military jet that had entered Syrian airspace. Syria has important reason for being extra-sensitive about airspace violations. In 2006 four Israeli jets flew over the residence of the Syrian President right before an Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In September 2007 Israeli aircraft crossed the Turkish airspace to strike an alleged nuclear facility in the Syrian desert. 

As the Syrian opposition abandons the ceasefire and calls for foreign intervention and the imposition of a no-fly zone it becomes obvious Syria has plunged into the quagmire of full-blown civil war. Everybody agrees the events may spill over to affect the whole region. The UN mission has so far clearly failed. Kofi Annan finds it expedient to involve Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran in peaceful management efforts led by a contact group. An interesting turn of events and a right idea. One must give Mr. Annan his due, he tries hard. But reaching success requires a change of attitudes on the part of major actors, a blur prospect in reality. On July 7 Mr. Annan told Le Monde newspaper that it was clear that his plan had not succeeded, adding: "Maybe there is no guarantee that we will succeed." 

Right now it appears all the efforts to determine who’s right and who’s at fault are a thing of the past. The position of the West is outright partial. Turkey and the Persian Gulf states have taken the insurgents side long ago openly providing them with weapons. Assad is always the one to blame whatever it is. The rule of benefit of the doubt applies only to the opposition forces. Under the circumstances there is no reason for the Assad government to cease combat actions. Quite to the contrary the stance of the actors mentioned above instigates the aggravation of the situation leaving no hope for any reasonable management. Chief of the UN monitoring mission in Syria Gen Robert Mood has already announced the arms deliveries from abroad is the main reason the conflict is on the rise. The statement is important for understanding what is what though the only practical result may be General’s dismissal for his honesty. US State Secretary has harshly denounced Russia’s arms supplies to Syria though there is nothing wrong with it according to international law. At the very same time Turkey and the Persian Gulf states do violate it in broad daylight in so many ways on so many days. Just one of many examples. A May 22 DEBKAfile (a Jerusalem-based English language Israeli open source military intelligence website) exclusive report states: «The Syrian rebels have received their first ‘third generation’ anti-tank weapons, 9K115-2 Metis-M and Kornet E. They are supplied by Saudi and Qatari intelligence agencies following a secret message from President Barack Obama advising them to up the military stake in the effort to oust Assad. DEBKAfile describes these shipments as «only one facet of the unfolding US plan for the Syrian crisis… Turkish intelligence has been given the green light to arm Syria rebels with IED roadside bombs tailored for the Syrian theater and intensively train the dissidents in their use at Turkish military facilities. This is tantamount to Ankara’s first direct military intervention in Syria». Somehow the US Stare Secretary doesn’t seem to be concerned a bit about the flagrant fact. She never mentioned that the Russia-supplied air and coast defense systems are absolutely useless for fight against insurgents. Quite to the contrary Turkey and Arab states deliver exactly what is specially designed for the purpose: small arms and anti-tank weapons. That’s what Kofi Annan has recently said in his Le Monde interview. He actually pointed out the fact that Russia is often blamed by the countries that intervene by supplying arms and conduct subversive activities threatening Syria’s stability. So it’s the pot calling the kettle black situation. 

Full support rendered by Al-Qaeda to the anti-Assad opposition hardly influences the Western stance. Few pro-Western opposition liberals give away leading positions to the Islamic radicals. Some experts in the West point to the evident fact, but they do in vain. The previous experience says the Western position will not be altered, whatever it is, the decision makers will stick to fairy-tales about the people rising against dictatorships even if the opposition happens to be represented brigands opposing any ideas about democracy. When in power they are doomed to cause grave headaches to Western democracies. Stubbornness is inveterate and hard to cure. There is no oil or other resources to lay an eye on in Syria. So it’s rather being stubborn and pursuing some murky geopolitical aims (with great probability of happening to be erroneous) that define the policy. It’s highly probable the policy will prove to be short-sighted and be dearly paid for in the long run. At the same time the Arab monarchies do their own thing building a new caliphate. 

Actually there is only one question raised by observers and analysts and that is the timing of military intervention by Turkey and Arab states. The absence of corresponding UN Security Council’s resolution never stopped aggressions against Yugoslavia in 1999 or Iraq in 2003. The probable explanation of why an intervention hasn’t happened till now is the deterrence presented by Syrian military potential, especially the ground forces. The Syrian military might is something to reckon with at regional and even international level. Personnel training is high, the weapons systems, even if obsolete, are expected to be used effectively. Unlike in Libya the Syrian armed forces have not split. Yes, there are instances of individual deserters. None of these, including the dramatic escape of a pilot to Jordan and the defection of General Manaf Tlas, the former commander the 10th Brigade of the Republican Guard, have been game-changers. What is important is that no single unit or formation of any size has ever changed sides so far. 

The major part of the Armed Forces remains loyal, its potential buttressed by small and medium range air defense and shore based anti-ship systems supplied by Russia. The overall potential of would be attackers exceeds the Syrian one many times but it’s exactly the fear of casualties that makes a lot of endeavors unacceptable in the contemporary world. There is each and every ground for this fear in the given case. It’s rather bloodless victories gained in a wink of an eye that fill the list of options for consideration today unlike protracted bloody military adventures consuming great resources. Participation in the intervention is certainly not an option for economic crisis stricken NATO that found even the operation in Libya to be too costly. The obvious fact that the involvement is useless without a ground phase excludes the alliance from the list of active participants. The GCC joint military potential is equal to the Syrian one in numbers and leaves it rather far behind in modern weapons. The armed forces morale is not expected to be high, the assumption based on the 1991 Persian Gulf anti-Iraq war experience. The GCC forces mainly followed the US advances as the second echelon. Besides an Arab against Arab war is an adventure of a rather dubious nature. The idea of taking part in intervention will hardly meet the US interests in the election year and the times of economic woes and military cuts. So it’s Turkey who’ll have to shoulder the brunt of it in case a conflict flares while the best other NATO partners would do is some modest sea and air support. The Turkish and Syrian military potentials are by and large equal. Perhaps Syria enjoys some advantage on the ground, while Turkey has some edge in air power. It also has a stronger navy but the advantage is of limited importance since it’s a 900 km long ground border that defines the geographic factor. Turkey leads in command, control communications, computers and military intelligence, including the UAV capability. No victory is in sight in case of one-to-one conflict. The Turkey’s main advantage will be ammunition and weapons supplies coming from NATO allies, while Syria will have to fend on its own till the wear and tear and attrition factors determine the Turkey’s victory. But Turkey will suffer significant casualties and overall damage while the political dividends may be blur. There is a great chance Turkey may pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the West and Arab states. The military conflict will weaken the belligerents enough to exclude any operation against Iran. Another possibility is Iran coming to the aid of Syria making the outcome unpredictable. But that’s a different story for a separate article. 

So the possibility of military intervention is low. Sometimes it is more blessed to lose face than assets and human lives. The absence of a UN Security Council resolution is a comfortable excuse to abstain from outright intervention and try to gain political dividends instead while resorting to the Hillary Clinton’s style of eloquent fault finding and pontificating. It’s not an outright military intervention like the one offered by US Senator John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and their supporters in the US Senate that will determine the agenda of the day in near future but rather economic sanctions and arms supplies in hope the Syrian armed forces collapse or Assad goes. The consequences of the expected outcome will run quite contrary to the interests of the West like in other cases (Libya, for instance), but that’s another story. No explanations, assessments and calculations serve the purpose while the policy towards Syria is shaped in the West. 

Tags: Middle East  Syria  Turkey