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The goals behind intervention in Syria

January 24, 2014 at 6:12 am

Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons provides a good excuse for an American-Western military intervention in Syria. If the West was driven by the immorality of killing on a mass scale, then the killing of over 100,000 Syrians would have been enough for them to take action against the regime long ago.

The reality is that the West was not satisfied by simply not intervening in Syria but it also chose to add a very important dimension by applying pressure on others in order to prevent the rebels from receiving qualitative arms. If they had possessed such arms they would have been able to end the war over a year ago. I would like to stress that I am referring to putting pressure on others to prevent qualitative arms reaching the rebels, not refusing directly to provide the arms, which is what most would think.

If we were to look for the underlying reason for the West’s position, we only need to look at Israel’s position which dictates the US position and, in turn, many other Western positions; it even influences Russia. Did you notice how Putin refused to provide the Syrian regime with the S-300 missile system when Netanyahu asked him not to do so?

As such, we can only assume that Obama’s new-found zeal for action against the Assad regime has to originate in Israel, for he would never be able to do anything without Tel Aviv’s nod. He was never eager to make such a strike or for any military intervention but the media frenzy in the US, influenced by the powerful pro-Israel Lobby, has forced his hand.

Prolonging and complicating the conflict in Syria is in Israel’s best interest as it not only destroys the infrastructure and resources of the country but also ties up Turkey, Iran and Hezbollah. Fuelling the unrest ensures that Sunni is pitted against Shia; again, it is in Israel’s interests to do this. However, recent developments suggest that matters have not been moving in the way that Israel would like.

Although the struggle is nowhere near being resolved, the rebels have started to advance once again, albeit slowly, and the power of jihadist groups is rising; this is an important dimension. It has set off alarm bells about the possible fall of the regime and chaos reigning or, even worse as far as Israel is concerned, such groups taking control over large areas of Syria. As it is, at the moment, the jihadists control around 60 per cent of the country.

Israel needs to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapon in case they fall into the hands of uncontrollable groups. However, Tel Aviv is not capable of doing this alone, not only due to the potential environmental fallout but also, perhaps, for fear of the reaction of international actors. The fate of Syria’s long-range missiles and launchers also needs to be taken into consideration.

From this point of view, it seems as if a possible strike will serve both sides of the conflict, the regime and the jihadists groups, as the Israelis will determine a clear set of targets they would like to get rid of and pass the intelligence to the US and the West. Israel is pretty much the main source of intelligence in the region for the west in any case. Jihadist groups will be targeted in order to provide an environment in which other forces may step in and take control of the rebel-held areas.

What about regime change? Analysts in the Israel media are almost unanimous that a limited strike will not force regime change in Damascus. As a purely “symbolic” move, it will serve as a “punishment” and possible “deterrent” but little else.

If the Israelis are content with this limited action they will support the continuation of the status quo, with each side grinding along in a war of attrition. They will be comfortable with that.

The second option is that Israel, and therefore the US, will go to other countries in favour of a strike against the Syrian regime, notably other Arab states, and try to change the balance of power. This would require a push towards negotiations with the Russians to reach a political solution under a government which is more “controllable” and therefore not a nuisance factor for other countries in the region, notably the Israelis and those Arab states opposed to the Arab Spring.

These are the most likely scenarios, but the fact remains that no one can predict them for certain. It has to be kept in mind that although Israel and the US work in tandem, Tel Aviv also has a good relationship with Russia.

All the threats made by the Iranians and their allies can be disregarded because they are making a noise to stop the Americans from developing their plans to include regime change in Damascus.

As for the threats from the Assad regime itself, Israeli analysts believe that the government there is exhausted after such a lengthy conflict and won’t be capable of doing much in response to any US-Western attack. Nevertheless, even though those who begin battles do not necessarily determine their results, surprise retaliation against Israel may provoke an escalation beyond anyone’s dreams. The same could be the case if the jihadist groups are targeted.

To sum up, we are facing a process that we cannot support, not because of a principled position that rejects foreign intervention, but because it is a process initiated by the Israelis. They have planned for it, determined the targets and provided the intelligence. Moreover, intervention does not serve the Syrian people’s best interests, although I can understand that they might welcome it as an alternative to the daily murders and hardships.

The Syrian people and their revolutionary forces will not surrender no matter how long the war goes on or how many sacrifices they have to make. What others plan is not necessarily going to happen in any case; the Syrians have free will too.

Translated form the Arabic text which appeared on Al Jazeera net on 28 August, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.