By Arab News
Syria is not Libya and because of that, NATO will not be flying warplanes over Syrian skies patrolling a no-fly zone.
The call for international protection, made by protesters, around 30 of whom were killed on Friday in what was the deadliest day in weeks in the country’s seven-month-old uprising, is a demand based on hopeful expectation. NATO warplanes played a central role in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. In Libya, NATO aircraft attacked government facilities and forces, giving a boost to rebels who eventually took power. Now, Syrian protesters want the same cavalry to come to their rescue from violence which the UN says has killed 3,000 people since March. The problem is that the Western alliance has shown no appetite to intervene in Syria to halt the bloodshed. And President Bashar Assad has not used warplanes against protesters; the government crackdown has largely been accomplished by troops on the ground, a place where NATO is loathe to send troops. Thus NATO intervention is highly improbable unless perhaps the Syrian regime starts attacking protesters from above.
Syrian opposition groups not only seek a no-fly zone but a naval blockade and other measures to protect the protesters, saying such policies could allow them to establish a base of operations to launch a campaign to bring down the Assad regime. However, Syria’s opposition National Council, wary of military intervention, has basically shelved the idea of a foreign helping hand.
So debate on how to bring international pressure to bear on the regime will have to be limited to the diplomatic front, but there, too, problems arise. The Arab League’s urgent message on Friday to the Syrian government, denouncing the continued killing of civilians taking part in protests, and urging Damascus to take the necessary measures to protect civilians, will, like all Arab League telegrams, be tossed aside. The League had urged both sides to agree to a dialogue in Qatar within two weeks — a deadline that looms tomorrow — but Syrian authorities have major reservations about the proposal, while opposition figures will not sit down for talks unless there is a halt to the killings, disappearances and mass arrests.
Internationally, too, political aid has not been forthcoming. China and Russia, who have vested partnerships with Syria, earlier this month vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have called for an immediate halt to the crackdown.
Given that Syria has largely sealed off the country from foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting, it is difficult to gauge the strength of the revolt. But clearly swathes of Syria have degenerated into an armed insurgency in which security forces are now hunting down protesters in house-to-house raids. Amazingly, though, the crackdown does not appear to have significantly reduced the number of protests. The popular revolt against Assad’s regime has proved remarkably resilient, with protests erupting every week despite the near-certainty the government will respond with devastating force. The capture and subsequent death of Qaddafi has also definitely energized the opposition who hold out the hope that Assad will be next.
But the regime does not appear to be in any imminent danger of collapse. While it appears to lack sufficient numbers of troops to garrison all the centers of unrest at the same time, it is standing firm, consistently blaming the unrest on armed gangs and foreign extremists looking to stir up sectarian strife.
The result has been a months-long stalemate on the table but deadly, nonstop brutality on the ground.