Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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Syria’s Conflict Enters a More Dangerous Phase

by Robert M. Danin
November 16, 2011

Syrian soldiers deploy in the Syrian village of Arida, as seen from the northern Lebanese village of Wadi Khaled near the Lebanese-Syrian border, May 20, 2011 (Omar Ibrahim/Courtesy Reuters).

Today’s Arab League decision to suspend Syria from the organization and impose economic sanctions if the violence against Syrian citizens does not end within three days is a huge blow to Syria’s standing and self-image as the vanguard of Arab nationalism. Assad refused to even send a delegate to Rabat, preferring instead to boycott the forum. Indeed, Assad has met the Arab League’s calls to ratchet down the repression with defiance. Monday marked what al-Jazeera has dubbed Syria’s “bloodiest day,” with at least seventy people killed across the country. This is in line with my prediction from my last post that the period ahead will be even more brutal and violent than ever. Assad cannot accept the terms of the Arab League agreement as he knows no other way to maintain his iron-fisted rule than by digging in and cracking down with ever-increasing brutality.

Rather than represent Arab resistance, Assad now stands as the target of resistance. Today’s attacks by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a dramatic escalation by the opposition. Soldiers who had defected from the Syrian army attacked military facilities in multiple locations throughout the country. Such actions make the military look weak and vulnerable, and may give encouragement to further military defections. The rebel Free Syrian Army also announced today the creation of a temporary military council with the aim of ousting the regime of President Assad and protecting civilians from his forces. We are clearly witnessing the militarization of the conflict that so many observers have feared. It will surely trigger a brutal response by the regime and many more deaths.

Amidst all this activity, the EU adopted measures yesterday that are extremely significant. It announced sanctions against an additional eighteen figures including a militia chief, the commander of Syria’s special forces, a number of generals and a lawyer who is close with the regime. This means there are now seventy-four people specifically targeted by the EU’s sanctions. As I discuss in the CFR.org video posted below, these targeted sanctions are exactly the kind of steps the international community should be taking to incentivize more people to break from the Assad regime.

The situation is violent and inherently dangerous. With Syria increasingly isolated, there is greater potential for Syria to lash out not only within the country, but directly or through proxies against targets in neighboring Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Israel. But Syria’s isolation also means that new opportunities have opened up for American and international leadership to help advance the effort to bring about Assad’s departure. My video identifies some things that Washington and the international community can do to help accelerate that.

To watch the video on YouTube, please click here.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Wim Roffel

    Do you really believe that fomenting a civil war in Syria that will cost over 100,000 death is in the interest of the Syrian people?

    Syria’s military has actually behaved quite conservatively. About two civilians or rebels have died for every cop or government soldier. That is is very low for a guerrilla war. I estimate that when the US fought the guerrilla in Iraq the ratio was above 10:1.

    What really should happen is that the US gives up it’s egoistic desire to get rid of Assad and instead encourages the Syrian opposition to negotiate with him. It should also pay more attention to the NCC in Damascus and less to the SNC – that in a lot of ways seems like a creation of the CIA.

    Negotiations are never easy. We have seen how long it took in Yemen and how many setbacks there were. But in the end Yemen has achieved its Spring with a much lower cost than Libya with its 30 to 50,000 dead, large devastations and anarchy. Yemen is the way to go for Syria, not Libya.

  • Posted by Matt

    The conflict is not internationalized but the NTC are the AL, Syria is no longer in AL. It is the NTC that acknowledged the SNC and FSA, the chap that spoke to them is not in government with the NTC. It is all very complex. Assad and his backers accept an insurgency instead of military force. He has used that women to try to start a civil war, and expected and desperate move. To stop the support, arms, money, fighters and training to the FSA from the FLA. If he shows Libya as a failure then he hopes that will save him do not remove me or civil war like Libya. If anything people have learned from Libya is that such actions will only strengthen the NTC/FLA to aid the SNC/FSA.

    While Libya is fragile Assad is the only one trying to destabilize it. If a Russian or PLA hand is seen then the oil contracts will not be honored by the NTC. The PLA like diversified energy assets.

    See if Qaddafi and Assad had not used violence none of this would have happened, but freedom is not free. The best advice Assad got was from Bob Gates, they would have gone home and it would have been quietly suppressed. Assad may or may not have been forced into exile. Sadly that would not have led to freedom. But it is a powder-keg and Gates thought it was all too risky. Turkey allowing the civilians in and not closing the border early on hurt Assad he needs to kill all those people, the living are a threat.

    So to intervene would result in a war, to not intervene will result in a war, because you have Assad the Iranians, Hizbullah and the Mahdi there killing Sunni’s. And in the end the Sunni’s cannot stand by and let Shiites slaughter Sunni’s and do nothing. That would lead to uprisings in all Sunni countries, good for Russia/Iran because it would send the oil price sky high.

    So I think the right balance has been found, Assad is finished. The Sunni population know the AL has taken action, they know there is some murky form of assistance to the FSA and the regime is finished.

    The conflict has been contained to a single theater not a regional war, it has been established what can occur and what cannot, insurgency via the FSA, supply, money, weapons, training, fighters, safe havens, I don’t care about mined borders, take them an disarm them an build IED’s. That is a win. Take it to the UN the Danny Devito, so no country will face sanctions and it is a proxy anyhow.

    The UN failure to act should not be a surprise the world is full of evil people.

    Russia know full well that without a UN resolution we are not going to go to war, unless attacked. So it bluster and bluff any deployment. A larger version of all the other stunts we see from the PM. Of course it is a small ocean and when things get cluttered accidents can happen.

    Of course Assad can attack one of his neighbors but that will lead to a quick collapse, Jordan is joining the GCC, Turkey is NATO and Israel is Israel. Then the French have a agreement with the UAE they are back in NATO so the GCC are connected to NATO.

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