The march is on to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons by attacks by selected Western countries—US, UK, and France being the most vocal. One must ask if this is really a smart thing to do? My answer is that it is not!
Why is such a move being contemplated?
- What is the desired end state? Regime change?
- Aiding the rebels that are heavily infiltrated by Al Qaeda?
- Starting a war in the Middle-east?
- Will Iran really attack Israel if Syria is attacked?
There are no good answers to any of these questions, but the momentum seems to be growing to do something.
French President Hollande is reported to have said that: “France is ready to punish those who took the decision to gas the innocent.” This is the rationale advanced by those who are gathering their forces. Is it now the purview of those with power to directly ‘punish’ those that they can? This is all being contemplated without a UN mandate—what does this say about the UN in an era where Russia and China would block such a mandate? What will happen when they deserve to be punished? The precedent of conducting military operations as punishment is not a good one to set.
The US has announced that it does not seek regime change. However, it would seem that any attacks on Syria would both embolden the rebels and reduce the Assad regime’s ability to conduct military operations. Some pundits believe that the attacks would be on the weapons systems that are capable of delivering chemical weapons such as artillery and rocket units. To do so the attacks would either be buy stand-off cruise missiles or aircraft. If aircraft then the Syrian air defenses would have to be neutralized. They Syrian air defense force is operated primarily by Russians. This raises the stakes of such an attack.
Is there an option for the ruling of Syria? There is not a shadow government in exile and the rebels are not unified except in their dislike of Assad and his minions. The rebel movement is infiltrated by Al Qaeda. The new regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt do not suggest that regime change without a selected replacement is a good thing. Additionally, as in Libya regime change may mean that more dangerous and sophisticated weapons fall into the hands of terrorists.
Iran has stated that if Syria is attacked it will attack Israel. (Israel is currently issuing protective masks and is in a state of alert.) Israel has stated that any attack would be responded to asymmetrically. Several years ago in discussing an Israeli attack on Iran I highlighted the problems that the Russian air defenses in Syria pose. Could an attack on Syria be a precursor to an attack on Iran by eliminating those air defense assets? More critically could it be seen that way by the Iranians and the Russians? In short an attack on Syria could cause unforeseen reactions that could throw the whole region into armed chaos and conflict.
The whole concept of “punishing” Syria raises numerous good questions to which there are no good answers. The march to punish Syria should be slowed until there are good answers.