Syria ~ what is holding back military intervention ?

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.

Jihādī Islam

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.

4 comments on “Syria ~ what is holding back military intervention ?

  1. I don’t agree with the Bab Tuma attack being done by anyone except the regime. Please read Syria’s history to know that Syrians have never had a problem with Christians nor any other religious group. We had a Christian PM before Baath and Assad, life was so wonderful (as I was told by elder family members + their friends).
    Those who are entering Syria to fight and all people are calling them “Jihadists” are just normal Muslims who could not tolerate the Islamic world silence over daily massacres and deaths of the innocent humans (let alone Muslims).
    I get questions from Egyptians, Libyans, Saudis, and even western Muslims on how they can enter Syria, communicate with FSA, and fight for justice with us.
    I and many Syrians don’t like the images coming out showing long beards but that is what happens when one ends up in a situation where we are at now.
    We lost faith in any and everything except Allah (God). We don’t care for our looks or how people perceive us, we want to save our children, women, dignity, and country (from destruction).

    • I can understand your reaction. I try to be objective but sometimes it is quite hard to understand what happens. As I write in another post, Some thoughts on Jihadism, I try to set a clear definition about what Jihadist Islam is.

      I am most definitely not arguing that FSA are Jihadists, but that we should fear the influence of a small group with a wrong agenda. These are the ones creating the bad image on the revolution that some people in the West have.

      Not my intent to offend anyone

  2. Indeed, it’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN and WHO…

  3. helendayem says:

    I completely agree with everything you wrote, but would like to add something that maybe you haven’t considered. Russia themselves have an enormous fear of Islam spreading across their country. Although, having left the conflict in Syria now for so long, they have opened the way for more extreme groups to move into the battle fields and in fact achieving the exact opposite of their original intentions. Agreed, they do have military and navel bases inside Syria, but I don’t think they are that important to them, as, for example their Navel Base in Tartous. has only been used as a ‘filling station’ for them over the last few years. Possibly strategically speaking their bases are of some importance, but not enough to push them to the extremes they have reached during this conflict, with their use of vetoes and weapons supplying. I have a feeling that their fear of Syria becoming an Islamist State is more important than most people think. The Russian Government dislikes religion in General, so how about one of the fastest growing religions in the world!
    Recent activities from the Russians, trying to promote dialogue between the Rebels and the Syrian Government, shows that the Russians are beginning to panic, realizing that the revolution will succeed, they are trying to get a foot in the door, where as before they called the Rebels ‘terrorists’ they re now calling them the ‘opposition’ a huge step that alot of people haven’t even noticed, but I believe very important.

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