How to Prevent Syria From Sparking a Regional War

With the announcement that the government in Damascus possesses chemical and biological weapons, world powers are nervously waiting to see who will control them after Assad's presumed fall. Abdel Majid Suyailem says Syria should adopt a Yemen-style power transfer to avoid a regionwide conflict.

al-monitor Smoke rises after shelling in Qareh, near Damascus, July 24, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Shaam News Network/Handout.

Topics covered

weapons of mass district, political entities, military intervention., military, tunisia, syrian regime, syrian, russia, iran, hezbollah, assad, alawite

Jul 27, 2012

Although Mr. Jihad Makdissi* has volunteered information about Syria's possession of weapons of mass destruction without having to, and despite the fact that this statement came in the context of the regime's confirmation of its complete control over these weapons, threatening to use them (only in case of foreign aggression) was the main objective of this revelation.

It is really deplorable that the Syrian regime be so easily and hastily "dragged" into this hazardous circle without having any specific purposes.

Weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical ones, are not particularly effective when it comes to fighting armies. They certainly fall outside the framework of effectiveness, should any "foreign interference" be limited to military air strikes or long-range missiles. Even if foreign interference involved air raids carried out by units specialized in this kind of operation, the usefulness of these weapons is virtually nonexistent.

Thus, the Syrian threat can only be interpreted in two ways:

The first possibility is that these weapons might be used against civilians. In this case, the victims would be Israeli civilians.

The second possibility is that these weapons will be used against Syrian population centers in which the Syrian regime loses control, and this would be difficult.

In any case, the use of these weapons is limited to scenarios of foreign interference or the imminent collapse of the regime.

Let us examine the possibilities of foreign interference and the indicators of the regime's fall that might pave the way for the use of these weapons.

Israel says that "Syrian weapons of mass destruction are still safe and under full Syrian control." Thus, Israel links a possible military strike against Syria with the practical access or leakage of these weapons to Hezbollah — then it added — or to "terrorist" organizations.

It is now clear that Israel is not enthusiastic about the fall of the Assad regime, but it cannot prevent this fall, either. Iran says it will not allow the fall of the regime and that it will prevent its fall by all means.

For its part, Hezbollah says it has not "yet" interfered to defend the regime, but that it will if necessary.

The United States perceives Syria’s threat as a very dangerous issue, especially given the link that Syria establishes between the use of weapons and foreign interference.

If we look at all of the above, we can conclude that the external threat of foreign interference has become objective; that is to say, intervention would not be solely to overthrow the Assad regime, but rather to also prevent the outbreak of a broader regional war. So, for Israel and the US, it is no longer about the fall of Assad, but rather the control over strategic weapons during and following the regime’s collapse

The Syrian regime realized this equation a long time ago. However, they were biding their time to announce that they possess weapons of mass destruction, and threatened to use them nearing the fall of the regime.

There have been suggestions that the regime long ago moved these weapons to the northwest coast. This is where they think they can rely on a loyal social base, where they can build an independent political entity. If that's so, there will be no need for any foreign intervention or any foreign control over these weapons. Therefore, the West would be satisfied, given that the foundations of the Syrian state are destroyed and Syria is divided into new political units.

Israel and the West had talks about five or six entities that could arise from these scenarios. Within this framework, if Iran and Hezbollah intend to defend the Assad regime (after it retreats to the mountains), the war would be unnecessary, the weapons would be secured, and all actors would cope with the new situation without the need for any military intervention.

However, this scenario is extremely unlikely because the Syrian army personnel and battle gear, with a few exceptions, will shift toward the revolution. The new entity would not be able to live without protection from the West and direct backup from Israel. When the West shifts towards the opposite side, the Syrian army will soon swoop into the region. The Gulf countries will consider this move a direct threat to their national security. Moreover, Turkey will immediately conduct a military intervention to prevent this entity from seeing the light of day, given that millions of Alawites reside in Turkey (the case is similar to the Shiites in the Gulf). On a political level, the West’s position would be embarrassing and dangerous in front of taxpayers and constitutional institutions.

Therefore, this scenario has no chance of coming into existence, and the political solution, as the situation on the ground had evolved to that point, has also zero likelihood of being implemented. The potential scenario that remains is the establishment of a buffer zone, the collapse of the regime in most of the provinces, a continued war in major cities  in Damascus and Aleppo in particular  a Western interest in controlling chemical and other kind of weapons and Western pressure to provide a right-wing solution. This solution so far has not been pushed forward, because Russia is still convinced that the regime is strong and that they can be offered a better option than the right-wing one.   

However, Russia and the Syrian regime are committing a fatal mistake if they think that a bargain will be possible for the resignation of the president. It is too late for that, and the situation on the ground is quickly deteriorating. The Tunisian proposal [for a peacekeeping mission and Yemen-style transition] to resolve the crisis is possible. This means that the ruling family along with figures of the security agencies and military leaderships involved in the bloodshed in Syria should depart, and the Arab forces, or maybe Islamic forces, should come to preserve peace and pave the road for a post-Assad era. This is the only way a regional war can be avoided, and the only way Iran and Hezbollah can be prevented from triggering an early war, at least six months before the expected time [of another regional war].

Amending the Tunisian way by proposing the peacekeeping forces is one of the core conditions to keep the region from slipping into a war, given that Iran and Hezbollah have the sufficient means to trigger a war after the regime falls, if the expected chaos is not controlled.

The region is as dark as the smoke that obscures it.

*The original Arabic attributes this statement to “Jihad Qadsiyyeh,” but the statement described was made by Syrian government spokesman Jihad Makdissi.

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