Proxy Cold War in the Levant, Egypt and Jordan 3/12/12
Heights or stop providing assistance to Palestinian elements operating in and outside the OccupiedPalestinian Territories.
The Russian and Chinese double veto is a message that the US cannot ignore and if it hopes togarner broader support in the international community, it must take into account the interests and priorities of other leading and emerging powers. It must work closely with its allies to reassure theso-called BRIC countries that Syria is not another Libya and that military intervention at heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict is not being considered.
Some analysts have proposed prying Syria’s security establishment and the Alawite community
away from the Asad regime. While the approach is sound in principle, the US may need to acceptthat the chances of doing so are slim. The passage of time and the level of bloodshed have made itmore difficult to conceive of a post-Asad Syria devoid of retaliatory measures against the Alawitecommunity. While many Alawites may not like or support Asad, the potential loss of their political and economic autonomy is a key barrier to defections. Even in a scenario where a
dominant opposition proved magnanimous in victory, there is little sign that Asad’s base –
and theother minorities that support the regime
is betting on such a favorable outcome.
While events in Syria
are challenging to the US and the West, they also complicate Iran’s foreign
policy and, as a result, how the US and Iran will compete in Syria in the future. Iran continues to
support the Asad regime’s efforts to crush popular dissent. However, it has inc
reasingly done sowith the acceptance that returning to the status quo ante in Syria is a fleeting hope rather than a
likely outcome. As such, Iran’s position is in flux in the Levant and could as easily lead to
progress or confrontation with the US and the West in Syria, as well as Iraq, Lebanon and with thePalestinians.
There now is only limited support in the US, Europe, and the Arab world for direct intervention inSyria. There are also reasons why the US might directly (or indirectly) take the lead in suchefforts. The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has left many questions about the future role andinfluence of the US, especially in the context of strategic competition with Iran. Instability in Syriapresents Washington with the opportunity to under
mine Iran’s regional posture, weaken or changethe leadership of one of its key regional allies and potentially downgrade the Islamic Republic’s
role in the Arab-Israeli conflict through Hezbollah.
Syria is not Libya. Syria has a population that is more t
han three times larger than Libya’s, hasalmost 30 times the latter’s population density and a much larger and far more capable military
overall. Syria also enjoys strong political, financial and military support from Iran and Russia.These factors complicate any calculus on military intervention in Syria, whether in terms of thelevel of potential military opposition, or with regards to the risk of high civilian casualties.Opposition forces in Syria do not control regime-critical territory, and most attacks, whilepotentially coordinated, seem to have limited tactical or strategic depth and have yet to present aserious challenge to units loyal to the regime.
At best, the Assad regime would be replaced by a democratic Sunni-dominated leadership that ismore favorable to the foreign policies of the United States and the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia.This could include a degradation of ties to Iran with effects on the flow of Iranian weapons andsupport to Hezbollah. At worst, Syria would remain unstable and could deteriorate into a deeper sectarian civil war, a conflict that could in turn draw its neighbors
especially Saudi Arabia andIran
into a cycle of regional proxy warfare. What is certain, however, is that in any scenario,
Syria’s regional role has b
een severely weakened by a year of unrest.
The exception to such restraint is the possibility that Syria’s repression will become so
violent that some form of humanitarian military intervention will be absolutely necessary.The US is planning for this option, but the risks are high, it could take weeks to makefully effective, and
it might be seen as intervention from Israel’s closest ally and as
interference in support of Israel
an association that could discredit the Syrianopposition.