The size and targets of the imminent Western military strike against the Syrian regime forces are linked to the main political message it will address, i.e. that Bashar al-Assad is no longer an acceptable party to negotiate over his country’s future during the Geneva 2 meeting. This means that the anticipated settlement conference might never take place if Al-Assad remains in power and abstains from surrendering it to another person or side.
An international ruling was issued to condemn Al-Assad and hold him responsible for the killing of hundreds of civilians using chemical weapons, which clearly implies his classification as a war criminal, who should be prosecuted and not negotiated with, and whose opinion in regard to the new Syria should not be heard.
The Western and Arab states waited a long time to achieve consensus inside the Security Council over the containment of the Syrian regime and the halting of the daily killings committed by its military machine, and after numerous initiatives and mediations – all of which failed to convince Al-Assad there was a popular opposition with which he should negotiate to stop the destruction of Syria as a country. It has now become necessary to undertake a military action from outside the United Nations to achieve that goal, thus paving the way before a settlement after the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The world previously witnessed similar sanctions, through which major states decided to punish tyrants without a UN mandate. This was seen for example in the raids launched by the United States against the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Libya in 1986, after it held Muammar Gaddafi’s regime responsible for the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Germany and the killing of American soldiers. But after these raids, Gaddafi remained in power until he was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011, despite his famous 2003 political turn which he thought would save him.
The current situation in Syria is different than the one which prevailed in Libya at the time due to the presence of an armed political opposition controlling more than half the Syrian territories and threatening Damascus and other main cities. However, the Western political and military planners should take into account the fact that Al-Assad’s stay in power following the intended strike would practically mean its failure, despite the repeated statements saying it does not aim to topple the regime. This is due to the fact that the limited military operation will not be enough in itself, if it does not undermine the system upon which Al-Assad is currently relying to preserve the loyalty of most of the Syrian regular army.
In other words, the American, British and French missiles and aircrafts should address well targeted and truly painful blows, thus leading to the subsequent fall of Al-Assad’s regime which will be responsible before the senior army officers for the great harm caused to their troops and for the pretext it provided for these strikes after it decided to use chemical weapons.
But what if this does not happen? What if the Syrian army – although exhausted – remains attached to its command? At this point, there would be no choice but to go back to the demands of the Syrian opposition ever since the regime started using violence against the peaceful demonstrators, before moving to heavy artillery and the targeting of areas outside its control with aircrafts and rockets, i.e. impose no-fly zones, establish safe corridors for relief purposes, and most importantly, relinquish the exaggerated Western reservations and adopt a decision to provide the opposition with weapons allowing it to fix the flaw affecting the balance of powers and win the battle by itself.