I haven’t been writing about Syria before because there is already a lot of coverage about this conflict and my personal interest is more with less known conflicts. Yesterday’s events however (for those who have missed it, the U.S. claims that Assad has used chemical weapons which was the Red Line not to be crossed or else the U.S. would intervene), made me change my mind because the consequences of United States (U.S.) direct support of rebel forces and the creation of a “no fly”-zone are very far reaching. Below I will address several consequences of arming the rebels.
I don’t side with on party or the other, I am focussing on the effects of arming the opposition.
The conflict itself
Last few weeks it seemed that Assad’s army, supported by Hezbollah fighters, was gaining ground on the rebels in several regions of Syria. They successfully took Qusayr and there are rumours they’re now heading for Homs or Aleppo. If the war would continue in its current matter, it could be over in a few months and it seems like Assad is on the winning hand. But when the U.S. Government decides to openly support the rebel factions by supplying them with (heavy) weaponry, this will bring the scale back into balance. For those who prefer to see Assad fall, no matter the costs, this is the desired outcome, but the consequences for the conflict are enormous. In the first place, the conflict will continue for a longer time, because both parties are a better match for each other. And how longer the conflict will go on, the more casualties there will be. In the second place, the conflict will escalate furthermore. Its intensity will grow because it will become harder for both sides to force a breakthrough so they’ll put more effort in winning and will bring more and heavier weapons to the battlefield. In the third place, the war will become dirtier. Both sides use terror as a weapon to bring fear to the civilians and to force them to collaborate. When the war rages on for longer, both sides will increase their terror to keep the civilians ‘on board’, also there will be more atrocities against each other because hate, rage and trauma will grow every week the war continues. Men become beasts when a fight takes too long. In the fourth place, chances of spill over of the conflict to neighbouring countries will grow. Jordan is pretty peaceful at the moment, but when the conflict rages on and Jordan will be used for fighting Assad (there are American Patriot installations located in Jordan), there might be elements in Jordan that will oppose that and start fighting the Jordan governmen. Lebanon is seeing the effects of spill over already, Iraq is a mess at the moment with Shia and Sunni groups going at each others throats, Turkey has seen violence already and when the conflict continues so will the threat to Syria’s neighbours to become involved.
Russian and Iranian reactions
Being Assad’s main ally who has been supplying him with arms, Russia will be forced to step up it’s support for Assad to prevent its investments from being in vain. Also, Russia will strongly condemn U.S. arms deliveries because it has been critisized for doing so itself. Furthermore it will put both countries against each other. Iran, which has been supporting Assad with troops, will also be furious and increase its efforts to keep Assad on the winning hand. Regional tension will grow as opponents become more involved and determined to let ‘their side’ win. Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and others will become more pitched against each other.
Who are they arming?
The idea is that the U.S. will arm rebels that are fighting to bring down Assad and install a democracy in Syria. But the question is in how far they are able to assure the weapons will not fall in the hands of one of the other groups that are fighting in Syria, but are driven by other motives like: the installation of an Islamist government and/or introduction of Sharia law in Syria; destruction of Shia power in the region; an independent Kurdistan in the north; the creation of a safe haven, by bringing and keeping Syria in chaos, to be able to conduct terrorist operations from Syria. Won’t those weapons fall in the wrong hands? In essence, all groups fighting Assad are allies, so why shouldn’t they share weapons when involved in battle? The big question here is: will those weapons end up in the hands of, for instance, Al Qaeda and being used against the U.S. or its allies?
What if Assad falls?
What if the rebels win with the help of U.S. and/or direct European support? Will the country become stable? Will there be a government all parties can agree with? As said above, all groups fighting Assad have different motives for doing so, so chances that there will be peace on short notice when Assad is gone are very small. Best case scenario: Syria will be divided into a few new states (Kurdistan, a democratic new Syria and maybe more) that will peacefully live next to each other. Al Qaeda affiliated groups will be put aside and neutralized in the process. Worst case scenario: a power struggle will commence between all factions with some groups aiming for Syria becoming a failed state with a weak government that has little control, in order to plan terrorist acts and build training camps without being hindered by the government.
Supplying the rebels with (heavy) weapons is a game changer indeed. This step will affect all levels of conflict, locally, regionally and internationally. Also, this step will intensify, lenghten the duration and contribute to further escalation of the conflict, all leading to more casualties.