So Syria has used Chemical weapons in its civil war… now what?
U.S., British and Israeli Intelligence all seem to be stating that the Syrian Government of Bashir al-Assad has used Sarin gas against rebels (and civilians) in its on-going civil war.
“To the best of our understanding, the regime used lethal chemical weapons,” said Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, head of the Research and Analysis Division at the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate.
Speaking at a security conference in Tel Aviv, Brun said further that based on the pictures of the victims — the size of their pupils, “and the foam coming out of their mouths” — the army believed that Assad’s troops had used the lethal nerve gas Sarin as a weapon.
Britain’s Foreign Office said on Thursday it had information showing chemical weapon use in Syria, and called on Assad to cooperate with international bodies to prove he had not sanctioned their use.
“We have limited but persuasive information from various sources showing chemical weapon use in Syria, including Sarin. This is extremely concerning. Use of chemical weapons is a war crime,” a Foreign Office spokesman said in a statement.
And an un-named Israeli source had this to say:
A second senior Israeli military officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said on Tuesday that chemical weapons appear to have been used in five cases. He said “dozens” of people were killed in the attacks when a “Sarin-type” chemical was dispersed.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that US intelligence has concluded “with some degree of varying confidence” that the Syrian government has used sarin gas as a weapon in its two-year-old civil war.
Following Hagel’s comments, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Capitol Hill that there were two instances of chemical weapons use.
Both the U.S. and Britain are now doing assessments to see if indeed the intelligence matches with actual events, though for this to come out so definitively means that both the U.S. and the British are inclined to believe the Israeli report.
But all this said… What next?
Syrian resistance calls on the U.S. to act decisively here and actively enter the fray to take out the Assad dictatorship. Now certainly this dictatorship ranks amongst the worst in human rights violators on the planet (though strangely enough human rights groups are remarkably silent about this). Estimates have the placed over 70,000 deaths in the course of the two year civil war.
This information seems to create a fairly compelling case for U.S. involvement to help end the misery that the Syrian people suffer at the hands of the murderous Assad dictatorship. After all, how could we “sit on our hands” while watching the Syrian government use Chemical weapons on its’ own populace.
The decision in this case is not that easy due to the fact that the Syrian resistance is littered with and to a large degree influenced by Salafist and al-Qaeda elements. Active U.S. and Western European involvement in this conflict on the part of the rebels could in fact cause a worse set of outcomes.
1. Should the U.S. and Europe get involved there is no doubt that this would change the course of fighting in Syria, and that the regime in Damascus would be seeing its last days. But what of the government afterwards? Right now rebel groups are split amongst themselves as far as “end results”, the majority of them certainly want nothing to do with the West and an alliance with us. There is a strong Salafist presence in these groups and what would they do once they won? It is my opinion that we could be looking at the recreation of a second Taliban like government in Syria.
Remember, these groups are heavily supported and funded by Conservative / Reactionary Wahabite regimes. In this case our involvement would be creating a more problematic regime than the brutal Assad dictatorship. Given the presence of al-Qaeda in the ranks of the rebels, I am not sure that this would be any kind of improvement over the current situation.
2. Should the rebels win, they have promised to spread their “Jihad” to U.S. ally (and one of the last remaining nations at peace with Israel) Jordan. Though some rebel elements are training in Jordan (supposedly with the help of U.S. Special Forces and the CIA), parts of the Jihadist elements of the rebel forces have threatened to take the fight to Jordan in an effort to create a Muslim Brotherhood sponsored “wall” (for lack of a better term) around what they like to call the “Zionist Entity” (Israel to you and I).
The Jordanian regime is not that powerful that they can fight off a sustained and asymetrical jihadist effort, particularly one backed by a State government, without radically changing their political orientation (away from the West and certainly OUT of their Peace treaty with Israel). They are already facing hardships from inside their own polity. So, as we can see…. a rebel victory could put a Salafist, Neo-Jihadi government in place of a reliable Western ally.
3. With respect to Israel, a rebel win means that on the Northern border Israel would face Lebanon / Hizbollah (Iran’s last and strongest client in the area), and an unstable Islamist Syria. Should the rebels win there would be strong regional pressure on Jordan (or see above total collapse) to abrogate its peace agreement with Israel, a move that would certainly de-stabilize the Central Front. And in the South of course there is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood government that while sticking to the 1979 Camp David peace treaty (they would lose all that needed aid from the U.S. if they didn’t) certainly could change that at any time.
4. The Assad regime is a last stronghold of Russian influence in the Middle East, not too mention an outpost for the Iranian theocracy. While Iran couldn’t step into the war in any effective manner (the Revolutionary Guard already is on the ground there) against Western Military forces, Russian military involvement (through advisors not ground troops) could complicate matters. The Russians have provided the Assad regime with cover in the U.N. but if the Russians saw their interests in the Mediterranean threatened I would not be surprised to see their military advisors begin to get involved.
5. Finally, should the rebels win, there are two places that these chemical weapons can end up. The first is in the hands of the rebel military, basically this would mean that al-Qaeda and/or Muslim Brotherhood factions in Syria would end up with a stockpile of Chemical Weapons. OR the weapons would end up in the hands of Hizbollah as the Syrian government would reward their allies with some choice military technology. Either way, that is incredibly bad news for both the U.S. and Israel.
Basically, what I am saying is that a rebel win in Syria could very easily destabilize the entire region and cause a much larger than regional problem.
BUT at the same time… the Assad regime is using Chemical Weapons on his own people. How can anyone sit back and watch that when they have the power to change it? In reality, how can our consciences rest at ease watching the slaughter of men, women, and children at the hands of a brutal dictatorship? Given our history, how can we as Jews do anything but stand against this kind of horrific behavior of a government against its own citizens?
Honestly, there are no good answers here. On one hand the Assad regime cannot be allowed to stay in power given their heinous use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. If they have indeed done this, there is really no way that they can be allowed to stay in power. At the same time as amply showed above, any active move to take them out doesn’t necessarily improve the situation for anyone, including the Syrian people.
Personally, I can’t think of any good solutions, just solutions that are less bad and none of them involve “sitting on hands”. If we do nothing we are faced with either a victory by Iran, Hizbollah and one of the worlds worst offenders of Human Rights, the Assad regime…. OR we are faced with the likely creation of an al-Qaeda / Jihadi client state.
It’s head’s You win or tails.. I Lose.