As the war in Syria continues; more and more people are wondering what is holding the West back to intervene. In this post I will try to explain some of the possible reasons.
On June 22nd 2012 two Turkish jets were downed by Syrian forces. Apart from some harsh words spoken by the UN, nothing really happened. Turkey did not call for NATO back-up based on article 5 of the Washington Treaty (The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all …) When Syrian mortar fire accidently (?) hit a Turkish border village there were some border clashes, but nothing fundamentally happened yet.
Turkey is simply afraid of the Kurdish majority in Syria’s north east. The Kurds are inspired by what happened in Iraq earlier, a Kurdish (semi) independent entity arose after the collapse of Saddam’s Hussein’s regime. If the Kurds in Syria join in, the step towards a possible Kurdish stronghold against the south eastern (Kurdish) parts of Turkey is not that far away.
Quite simple … Why would Obama start a war in the year he is supposed to be re-elected (maybe)
And please do not forget that Russia has a marine base in Tartūs (Syria), the Cold War is supposed to be behind us though.
For some insight on this see comment by HelenDayem below
Hezbollah, Iran and Lebanon
With Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, having a found base in Lebanon and being highly supported by the regime in Damascus, another major player in the Middle East becomes thoroughly involved. It is thought that Iran already deployed troops in Syria, assisting the al-Assad regime. The mayhem around Iran’s nuclear program, tends us to conclude that’s it no so much a question whether Iran will be attacked (either by Israel, either by a Western alliance) but when …
Lebanon is one of the most complex states in the Middle East, nowhere else there is such religious and ethnic diversity. Apart from the richness in Islamic factions (Sunni vs. Shi’a in various forms), there are large Christian groups (again a wide variety) and so on. Some groups (whether Jihādī whether Syrian government or others) seem to be highly active in trying to export the Syrian conflict to neighboring Lebanon. Some clashes have been reported already. The most grave incident was the murder of the Lebanese Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, the head of the intelligence unit of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces (ISF), on October 19th in Beirut. Intrusions and clashes like these could stir up the factions to take up arms against each other.
The longer we hold back, the stronger the position becomes of several Jihādī movements in Syria. Where the revolution at first was a civil undertaking, it soon evolved to an armed conflict, led by Syrian officers (defected from al-Assad’s army). In the course of the months it became clear that there is no such thing anymore as one Free Syrian Army (FSA); but that the opposition is merely a conglomerate of groups with all kinds of interests. We still have a majority of FSA, who are Syrian civilians or ex-soldiers, fighting for their land, freedom and family. Apart from that we have Kurdish freedom fighters (see above) with their own political agenda.
And more worrying, some foreign Jihādī’s are already fighting their war in Syria, just aiming at the implosion of the Syrian state, thus creating a free haven for the Jihādī movement (like Iraq was some years ago). The most known group is the Nusra front (Jabhat an-Nusra), a Syrian native Jihādī movement. But other (foreign) groups with links to the al-Qaeda philosophy are taking ground as well. Recently an attack on the Christian area in Damascus, Bāb Touma, can be seen as an attempt to rouse up ethnic and religious diversity and adding a new aspect to the war.
Saudi Arabia and the traditionalist Gulf States
An important issue for the “real” FSA is the lack of heavy arms. It is quite difficult taking out a tank or a MIG with an AK47 or an RPG. Some reports have shown out that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supported the FSA heavily, not only financially but some also speak of weapon shipments. Their interest is obviously to take out the Alawī (Shi’ite) regime of al-Assad and install a government that adheres the Sunnī principles of Islam. Thus creating a regional power that can stand up against the arch enemy, Israel. The existence of the Jewish state is a thorn in the eye of traditional Islamists and it’s destruction or disappearance their ultimate goal. We’ll have to see how this aspect of the war evolves further, at the time the fog of war is too thick to pone a solid opinion.
Of course there certainly are other elements that play a role in this inertia. A situation that might change soon. The presidential elections in the USA and it’s outcome might be crucial in what follows next … There is a lot at stake in Syria and for the Middle East as a whole, the next few weeks can be decisive.