The fate of Syria depends on whether President Assad leaves office voluntarily within the next few days and goes into exile. It doesn’t matter who could have used chemical weapons in Syria, nor does it matter when or why they could have used them. It doesn’t matter if the world responds or not. The outcome of a protracted civil war is well known. The sooner it ends the sooner the population can resume a normal life and develop their economy and state. President Assad is disillusioned if he thinks that he and his inheritors can not only rule Syria but that Syria can also emerge under his rule as the most developed and stable state in the region. The deliberations and somewhat procrastination by the United Nations and individual concerned countries regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria is an opportunity for Assad to deliberate his own future and the fate of his country, Syria.

Continual and perpetual civil war with many opposition groups and radical elements and substantial loss of life and damage leaves a country ungovernable and unlivable. Continual and perpetual civil war inhibits development and progress. The mass exodus of civilians who become refugees leaves agriculture, industry, and the tertiary sector unattended. The consequence of civil war is dilapidated and destroyed infrastructures such as communication, electricity and transportation. Assad is disillusioned if he thinks that military victory in the civil war will leave him in a position of power. Should Assad win in battle against those opposing him, he will only be left with the poorest and least developed country in the Middle East. Assad must contemplate his future and the fate of his country while the United Nations and individual concerned countries contemplate a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

One such response being contemplated by the United Nations and individual concerned countries is air strikes. Should Assad decide not to leave office voluntarily, and should he decide to weather out such air strikes, then he should be sensitive to the consequences. Assad may wish to read recent history about air strikes enacted by third parties to civil wars. Operation Deliberate Force by NATO was carried out between 30 August and 20 September 1995, involving 400 aircraft and 5,000 personnel from 15 nations dropping 1,026 bombs and striking 338 Bosnian Serb targets. Operation Allied Force by NATO was carried out between 24 March and 10 June 1999 involving 1,000 aircraft from air bases in Italy and Germany and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. The 38,000 combat missions resulted in over 10,000 deaths of Yugoslavian forces and the destruction of major infrastructures such as electricity power stations and bridges across rivers. In both cases the air strikes changed the course of the civil war.

Maybe Assad thinks that these were too long ago or that the circumstances are different or that President Obama was not involved so they are not applicable to current American decision making. Assad would be wrong. Since President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 the United States has conducted at least 20,130 air strikes of which at least 10% have been by drones. Targets have been hit in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The Obama administration has conducted more air strikes day-in day-out than the previous Bush administration. Bush’s roughly 24,000 air strikes in seven years amounted to an air strike about every three hours, while Obama’s 20,130 add up to one almost every two hours.

It is of no significance who could have used chemical weapons in Syria, nor is it significant when or why they could have used them. It is not significant whether the United Nations will pass a resolution permitting air strikes or other military action. It is not significant if the United States, NATO or other individual concerned countries find a way to conduct air strikes or other military action without a United Nations resolution. What is significant is that President Assad must contemplate his future and the fate of Syria and end the civil war. If Assad leaves office within the next few days voluntarily and goes into exile, he will end the civil war and save his country from third party intervention potentially by air strikes. This is the message that must be emphasised and conveyed to him from the debates in the United Nations and the US Congress and elsewhere.

By leaving office voluntarily Assad will demonstrate courage and responsibility to his own people and he will set an example that errors in war and the use of unacceptable weapons can be resolved in a peaceful manner. Alternatively should he challenge the international community and perpetuate the civil war, he will face the decline of his country and rule, the dilapidation of essential services and the destruction of infrastructures, the demise of Syria’s economy, an exacerbated refugee crises, and the radicalization of the region. No matter which option Assad selects, he should be aware of the inevitability of the end of his Presidency. President Assad’s future is inescapable but the fate of Syria depends on the manner in which he decides to leave office.

Dr Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.