As Syria approaches the seven month anniversary of its conflict, the following is becoming clear:
1- The Syrian military and internal security apparatus is a cohesive group that seems unlikely to disintegrate anytime soon. There is no doubt that some desertions have taken place. But these have been too sporadic to make a noticeable rupture in the army’s control over the Syrian territory.
2- The defining moment in the past seven months came on the eve of Ramadan. Hama was steadily moving away from central control. The sensitivities of moving the army into Hama on that day were not lost to Damascus. In the end, the risk of waiting was deemed too high. Leaving Hama the way it was for the whole month of Ramadan would have made any attempt to retake the city that much harder to accomplish thereafter. No one in the Syrian leadership wanted to have another Benghazi in Syria. This is why the tanks moved into Daraa earlier and Rastan just recently. Damascus will not allow any territory to fall outside of its control.
3- Armed with a strong and cohesive army that has been able to exert full territorial control over the whole country, the opposition must by now be aware that defeating this regime militarily is unlikely to happen without foreign help. Syria is not Tunisia or Egypt. The popular uprising that was going to sweep away the Syrian regime was an attractive option in theory. Members of the Syrian opposition saw it as the way forward. In practice, however, it is yet to yield any discernible result.
4- This leaves foreign help. Presumably, this can mean one of three things:
- Foreign Boots on the ground.
- No Fly-Zone.
- Arming internal groups with the hope toppling the regime militarily.
The latter option is precisely why the Syrian leadership has made sure that no territory falls outside its control. Such an area would simply act as a base and an address for foreign arm shipments and would constitute a Syrian Bhangazi. Any foreign shipments that have come in so far seem to have been sporadic and light enough not to pose any legitimate strategic risk to the country’s armed forces. Indeed, the Syrian army and security forces are so superior in numbers and firepower that it seems almost impossible for this strategy to ultimately work. The opposition is unlikely to defeat the army regardless of how many arms it can unilaterally source from outside.
In an exclusive report entitled, War only option to topple Syrian leader, Colonel Riad al-As’aad seems to call for the international community to provide army rebels with weapons and enforce a no-fly zone. He concludes by saying:
“If they don’t give it to us, we will fight with our nails until the regime is toppled. I tell Bashar al-Assad, the people are stronger than you.”
The fact is that the Colonel realizes that arming the rebels from outside needs both a Syrian address (Rastan or jabal al zawye) AND a No-Fly zone.
But what is a No-Fly zone? The concept seems a little confusing in the sense that the Syrian air force has not exactly been busy fighting the insurgents with chemical weapons (Iraq) or the like. One can think of this concept as the prelude or the poor cousin of the first option which involves sending foreign boots on the ground. The No-Fly zone, should it happen, would presumably involve NATO targeting and degrading Syria’s extensive surface to air anti aircraft missiles.
Saddam survived everything that was thrown at him, including a No-Fly zone, for years till the foreign boots showed up. Once the latter happened, his regime simply crumbled in days. While the initial western success was intoxicating, what came after was enough to convince even the most hawkish elements in Washington that a repeat of that experiment in Syria now would be incomprehensible. The country does not have the financial, political or military stomach for this adventure at the moment.
The newly formed Syrian National Council faces a dilemma when it comes to foreign intervention. Quite simply, the opposition knows that it is nearly impossible to topple this regime without foreign help. Yet, they also know that inviting foreign military intervention into Syria is political suicide. What you get as a result is a muddled policy response and half-pregnant answers.
To be sure, no foreign intervention has been the consistent party line. During the latest interview with Aljazeera, Mr. Ghalyoun called for “international observers to help protect civilians”. While that does not sound like direct foreign military intervention, it surely is a prelude to one. What would happen if a team of international observers (UNIFIL?) were shot at or killed? Would the international community have to send real armed forced to protect the observers next?
The Syrian National Council is likely to keep dancing around this issue and avoid commenting on the subject directly. This is because they are in a catch-22 situation. As this conflict carries forward, the time will come when the SNC will have to face that fork in the road and convincingly describe how it intends to bring the slogan of ”Isqat al Nizam” into reality on the ground.