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Three Scenarios for Day After Attack on Syria

The possible outcomes of a US-launched war on Syria.
A Patriot anti-missile battery is deployed in the northern city of Haifa August 29, 2013. Israel ordered a small-scale mobilisation of reservists on Wednesday, and strengthened its missile defences as precautions against possible Syrian attack should Western powers carry out threatened strikes on Syria. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (ISRAEL - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS) - RTX12ZZO

It seems that the question is no longer whether the United States would, with the backing of a new coalition, launch an attack on Syria after the use of chemical weapons. The "Kosovo II" kind of attack, as many argue, should be much shorter in duration than the 1999 Kosovo attack, but not necessarily efficient in penalizing the Syrian regime and inflicting heavy damage on it. Such damage, however, would not necessarily change the military balance of power enough to favor an already politically and organizationally fragmented opposition.

Three scenarios could emerge from such an attack.

First, the complex structure of the Syrian conflict could open the door for repercussions that will transcend the geography of the original crisis. It could render the latter much more complicated to address. Retaliation by the Syrian regime or by any of its regional allies — not necessarily on Syrian territory — could transform the Syrian crisis into a regional one. The crisis that is importing fighters from its surroundings into Syria will, this time, export fights back into those surroundings. Proxy wars could be fought under different names, ways and places in an already tense and conflict-prone strategic theater witnessing strong trans-state solidarities. One that extends from Baghdad to Beirut, reaching even into the Gulf, Jordan and probably dragging Israel into a multifaceted conflict. The Syrian crisis will be submerged into a larger conflict area, changing the parameters of the crisis entirely.

Second, even if limited in terms of repercussions to Syria, the "Kosovo II" model if applied to Syria could kill the possibility of holding an already difficult Geneva II conference. The relationship between the two necessary godfathers, the United States and Russia, that such a conference needs to convene will be sour. The cards will be reshuffled and it will take time before they could restart working together on this matter. The same could be said about changes affecting the protagonists. The opposition might feel that it now has the upper hand at the political-diplomatic level to be willing to show flexibility. It won't be encouraged in such a scenario to do so by its friends. The same could be said about an injured, but not much weakened, regime that will have to stick to its original position. It will be supported by its regional and international friends not to make concessions such as the ones requested by the opposition. We will still be in the logic of the zero-sum game, even a more consolidated one, because the attack will not allow for the necessary flexibility in the two's positions. A war of attrition will prevail without any serious attempt at a political settlement.

A third scenario involves the possibility of a return to Geneva II, but after a relatively long period. A transition between "Kosovo II" and Geneva II will be characterized by further escalation of violence in the conflict and more political tension among the regional and international friends of the warring parties. An appeasement period is necessary to start thinking of breaking a protracted stalemate with a high level of violence and tension. The conflict could threaten the interests of friends in different ways and might force the United States and Russia both to feel the heat and start working together. The aim will be to develop the necessary consensus for a roadmap to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, a process that might also take a long time to successfully unfold. Meanwhile, the structure of Syrian society would change under the pressure of the different wars, rendering a solution more difficult to reach but not impossible.

Ambassador Nassif Hitti is a senior Arab League official and the former head of the Arab League Mission in Paris. He is a former representative to UNESCO and a member of the Al-Monitor board of directors. The views he presents here are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

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