“I don’t see how a no fly zone would help, ”
It wouldn’t help one bit. I think even some high up opposition figures are getting their military terminology mixed up. Almost certainly they envision some sort of safe area, which would be protected by airpower against attacks from the regime, while allowing defectors to group and launch attacks against the regime from within it. Just like what they had in Libya. At present, such a scenario seems highly unlikely, unless there is another Jisr Al Shoghour type mass exodus of refugees to a neighboring country.
But NATO isn’t needed at all. The terrain in Libya was completely unsuitable to guerrilla warfare, but hospitable to conventional warfare. The case is reversed in Syria. Compare the number of defections today to the numbers two, three, four months ago. They can only increase as time goes on.
Will guerrilla warfare on its own be enough to overthrow the regime? At present levels, no (although the FSA’s success in increasing the reach and capabilities of their operations has been spectacular). Not only has the FSA not had enough time to build itself up to such a degree, we must not forget the nature of the regime we are going to overthrow. To the Assad and Makhlouf regime, a hundred thousand dead Alawite foot soldiers are expendable, to be used up dispassionately, like barrels of fuel or rounds of ammunition. In Tunisia, a few dozen dead civilians was enough for the military to boot out the president. To the regime, a few dozen thousand Alawite dead are acceptable losses.
As military defections increase, the civilian and sectarian pillars of the regime have to be counted on to be pragmatic, and work towards their own self interests.
And such self serving calculations say that it is not in their interest at all to prop up a regime that can only offer them a country engaged in a prolonged war with itself, and living under crushing sanctions. People will endure any hardship and sacrifice much in the way of family and material comfort if they feel their existence as a religion or sect is under threat. It is a different matter entirely to ask them to go on a war footing just so Rami Makhlouf can keep charging 10 liras per SMS.
Look at the pro-regime’s Facebook page comments, at what the Alawites in Homs are saying. They are fed up with what they perceive to be the army’s incompetence. They may not be for the revolution, but they are most certainly not for junior anymore. A minority actually would prefer Cro Magnum Maher, but the majority acknowledge that the government has completely and utterly bungled how they handled the past eight months.
As hopes for a decisive regime military victory continues to fade, more and more of the regime’s nominal base of support will want to arrive at an accommodation. There is no future for Besho, his family or his cousins in Syria, that much is an indisputable fact. Robert Ford was spot on when he advised the revolution to gain the support of segments of Syrian society that have, out of fear, been too intimidated to move decisively against the regime. Remember the actors and artists’ demonstration in Damascus that was brutally broken up by the regime? THAT is what exists just underneath the surface, a surface currently smothered by an army of paid mercenary shabihas.
Now, the article
By Michael Weiss Last updated: October 28th, 2011
Bashar al-Assad decided almost a year ago that he’d rather burn his country to the ground than allow the Syrian people have a turn at real democracy. For nearly eight months, I’ve been following the plight of the extraordinary patriots who are defying him, amazed as much by their fearlessness as I have been by their ingenuity in transmitting evidence of the regime’s brutality. In addition to the countless demos and Facebook pages, stray cats have been painted with revolutionary slogans, water fountains have been dyed red, and helium balloons have been released into the air, all in defiance of one massive crime family. For those of us watching this spectacle from afar, there have been thousands of uploaded mobile-phone videos all testifying to the same phenomenon: unarmed protestors demand freedom, then get shot, beaten, arrested and tortured in response, regardless of age, sect or sex. Excellent investigative journalism conducted recently by Panorama’s Jane Corbin and Channel 4’s Ramita Navai corroborates this narrative.
“We’ve Never Seen Such Horror” was the title of Human Rights Watch’s indispensable early report on Syria. Well, now we have seen such horror: and it’s been amplified lately with credible reports of women being gang raped, organs being stolen from activists’ corpses, and other grotesqueries which testify to Orwell’s observation that whatever your darkest imagination can cook up, a totalitarian regime can always do better.
Here’s a fly-leaf calculation worth bearing in mind:
• Syria is a country of 22.5 million people.
•- According to the latest UN report, at least 3,000 people have been killed although the true figure is probably closer to 4,000-5,000 (many bodies have not been “registered” at morgues yet).
•10,000 Syrians are currently living in tents in southern Turkey.
• 4,000 have fled to Lebanon.
• 5,000 more are deemed “missing.”
• 80,000 have, since mid-March, been arrested.
• The Free Syrian Army (FSA) of rebel soldiers have got about 15,000 men under their command.
At a minimum, then, roughly 117,000 lives have been affected by this revolution and its repression. Now consider all their friends and relatives. What percentage of the total population has been traumatised over eight long months? What percentage would equal failed statehood?
Calls for Western military intervention began in earnest on the ground in Syria after Tripoli fell in August, and have increased in volume since Gaddafi was dragged out of a drainpipe and killed in Sirte last week. There’s even a Syrian Facebook campaign called Nato For Syria, which shows pictures of popular sentiment for doing to Bashar what American, French and British war planes did to the mad colonel.
Apart from Russia and China’s obscene intransigence on a UN Security Council resolution, the newly formed Syrian National Council (SNC) rejects “foreign military intervention”. Prominent SNC member and probable SNC president, Burhan Ghalioun, has clarified that the council “rejects any outside interference that undermines the sovereignty of the Syrian people,” which is phrased ever so ambiguously that some have read it as betraying a tacit sympathy for an intervention that doesn’t involve boots on the ground (to say nothing of the fact that Syrian people haven’t got “sovereignty” yet.)
The SNC’s stubbornness on the do-it-yourself model for regime change isn’t completely misguided, although it warrants a rethink if there’s to be any country to salvage for democracy. Dr Radwan Ziadeh, now the head of the SNC foreign affairs bureau, told me months ago that the problem with a no-fly zone is that, unlike Libya, Syria isn’t an expansive desert wasteland interrupted by outcroppings civilisation; military and civilian sites are situated so close to one another that civilian casualties from bombing campaigns could be very high. Also, although helicopter gunships have been used in cities like Jisr al-Shughour, the regime’s reliance on its air force has so far been minimal.
Nevertheless, detailed maps of Syrian military sites have been circulated, purportedly showing the positions of the regime’s air defence system. According to Foreign Policy magazine, “Soviet-designed S-25, S-75, S-125, and S-200 surface-to-air missiles, and the 2K12 ‘Kub’ air defense system” would all have been wiped out from the sky before Western war planes could effectively patrol safe areas. Assad’s got an estimated 3,310 anti-aircraft weapons, which would no doubt be used to down those planes, although the cost for firing them would be considerable, with tough US and EU sanctions against him already in place and getting tougher all the time. The psychological effect of being at war with an international coalition would also stymie the regime’s strategising and likely encourage further military defections from the army.
One defence analyst I’ve consulted has said that, in addition to a no-fly zone, Syria would also likely need a “no-drive” zone imposed to prohibit armored vehicles or pickup trucks from transferring these weapons around the country. This could also be managed aerially with the help of US satellite and radar systems.
What are our other options at this point? The Free Syrian Army can’t fight the Fourth Armored Division or the Republican Guard by itself. Nor, frankly, is that ragtag milita’s headquarters in Turkey beneficial to mounting an protective campaign, as anyone who has followed the fate of captured and presumably killed FSA spokesman Hussain Harmoush can attest. If Turkey wants to lead from the front on the Syrian revolution, it can do so through a perfectly capable, multilateral organisation: Nato. The Allied Air Component Command for Southern Europe is based in Izmir, and the Incirlik Air Base in Adana is co-leased by the US Air Force.
Without outside help, Syria is headed for a major humanitarian catastrophe on the scale of the Balkans or Rwanda. There are no easy solutions to this crisis, but blinding the regime and giving cover to the revolutionaries may be the best course.