By Ali Hussein Bakeer
The cost of the war will determine the future of Syria and the regime that will replace Assad will indisputably bear the brunt of these costs. It is a fact that Syria will be quite significantly damaged economically, socially and militarily should the crisis continue.
In the time the armed opposition is taking more lands in Syria, the regime is increasingly relying on combat aircraft and attack helicopters in an equation where opposition is controlling land and the regime is controlling air.
The latest information from Syria indicates that the revolutionaries are having difficulties in securing areas they have captured, due to not possessing the anti-aircraft equipment that could give them an edge. On the other hand, the Syrian regime is having difficulty recapturing areas it has lost due to not having the sufficient ground forces to achieve the task.
More reports are increasingly focusing on the fact that Assad has lately been depending on the Alawite Shabiha to secure Alawite neighborhoods due to the lack of regular army personnel to do this job. The Shabiha are forcing the residents in these areas, which are populated by Syrians from the same sect, to pay tribute for guarding them.
While the military support afforded to the Syrian regime by Russia and Iran continues, the friends of the Syrian people are struggling to even send food and medical assistance to those who were forced to flee their country. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has announced that as of September, 300 thousand people have fled the country. The number of people who are internally displaced is estimated to more than 2.5 million, while the number of those outside the country is expected to rise to 700 thousand by the end of the year.
Having reached a stalemate on the Syrian issue, the international community is short of even defending the most basic human values and is unable to bring a halt to the destruction and massacres of the regime. Therefore it is believed that this war where both sides fight to exhaust one another will last much longer.
It is evident that such a war of exhaustion will have very significant human, material, economic and military consequences. More important is the possibility that a weaker Syrian state may emerge from the war. The cost of the war will determine the future of Syria and the regime that will replace Assad will indisputably bear the brunt of these costs. It is a common fact that Syria will be quite significantly damaged economically, socially and militarily should the crisis continue.
If the crisis persists, this may cause the entire Syrian economy to collapse. As a matter of fact the existence of the regime isn’t predicated on the functioning of the national economy anymore; the regime receives direct assistance from Iran. This assistance both helps the regime survive and helps pay for gangs such as the Shabiha operating inside the country. This is the way in which the war against the revolutionaries is financed.
In light of this information, it could be said that the regime that will replace Assad will face very tough problems. There is no foreign currency entering the country and the local currency is losing its value. Furthermore, it is very probable that the country’s 17 billion dollars of reserve funds will also have run out. Up to now, Assad has already spent more than half of this money by spending approximately half a billion dollars per month.
Also the main economic sectors of the Syrian economy are either dysfunctional or are completely destroyed. The tourism sector which accounted for 9 billion dollars of income per year has completely stopped, already costing the country over a billion dollars in losses. It is obvious that it will take a long time to reinvigorate this sector even if Assad is toppled. The archeological, historical and authentic treasures of the country are also targeted and the latest of these attacks is the assault on the Aleppo bazaars that are part of Syria’s cultural heritage.
The industrial sector which is mostly located in Aleppo, the economic capital of Syria, was highly destroyed, not to mention the great damage to the agriculture sector, trade and services.
According to some estimates, 45 billion dollars is needed in order to rebuild Syria’s infrastructure and repair the infrastructure that Assad has destroyed. As a matter of fact the number of homes that have been completely demolished is nearly 300 thousand, and the number of buildings that have been partially destroyed and as a result are uninhabitable is nearly 250 thousand. Nearly 400,000 houses have sustained relatively minor damages.
According to another study by a researcher from the Syrian Constitutional Movement, 200 billion dollars is needed to abolish the losses the Syrian state and people have sustained.
As a result of the on going clashes the regular army has to a large extent dissolved. The number of defectors from the army is increasing everyday. What is interesting is how the regime is using the 4th Armored Division and Shabiha.
Some military reports indicate that Assad relies on military units where there is a concentration of Alawites instead of utilizing all his fighter units. This is because in the event that Assad uses these forces to suppress civilians, they may refuse the order to attack and thus split. This would increase defections from the army.
Furthermore, putting the army in a position to confront civilians and protestors undermined his military doctrine, and thus he transformed it from an army responsible for protecting the state and the people into a sectarian gang charged with protecting the Alawite head of state. If the situation in Syria persists, in the future the necessary foundations to build a national army in Syria will have been completely destroyed.
Additionally, the government that will be set up after Assad – no matter what the structure – will face a security problem. Naturally, the new government will not have adequate arms, military equipment or highly trained professional personnel, especially because of the fact that the regular army is losing its assets (tanks, aircraft, etc.)
The continuation of the current situation in Syria for a longer time means that whatever political system comes after Assad will have to face challenges that are bigger than it can handle on its own. This is especially so due to the fact that it is evident that international actors such as the U.S. or Europe are unable to help Syria economically or militarily as a result of the situation they themselves currently face in their countries.
What is more, a supposed new regime will face many difficulties that will become more visible as the number of refugees and homeless people increases, the job opportunities are further limited due to the problems inside the country, the security issues become a problem and the state structures are destroyed. All of these indicators tell us that Syria may become a suitable environment for attracting and creating gangs, radical groups, mercenaries working for regional or international powers, strengthening the separation tendencies and the underlying ambitions of certain groups which will pave the way for drifting the country into a deeper chaos, thus making things altogether more difficult for politicians.
In summary, the persistence of the Syrian crisis, the support of certain states for the Assad regime or what left of it, and the lack of action by the international community in terms of helping topple the regime and replacing it with a democratic one or at least in terms of protecting civilians, is causing the resources of the Syrian state to be increasingly exhausted. This will have very serious implications for the post-Assad transitional period, which is supposed to lead us toward a production of a democratic system that would protect the Syrian people and their fundamental rights and freedoms. Yet a Syrian state without the necessary resources makes it very hard for a new regime to attain these goals, at least in the short run.
Ali Hussein Bakeer
USAK Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies