In my post of April 23 I stated that I could not imagine any significant action taken by the international community against Syria if not certain ‘red line’ were crossed. These ‘red lines’ can be summed up as the use of heavy weapons – artillery, tanks, airplanes and helicopters – against protesters. This is what Muammar Qaddafi did and the result was UNSCR 1973/2011 which opened up the air campaign against that regime.
Yesterday the Syrian regime crossed this ‘red line’ by deploying tanks (according to BBC seven T-55:s) together with 5000 troops in an attack/occupation of Deraa, the birthplace of the protests. There are alse reports of a similar attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma. So, NATO bombs will be raining down on Syrian tanks any day soon? No, highly unlikely; something that the regime of Bashar al-Assad knows and has factored into their plans to deploy tanks against rebel strongholds.
But what are these fault lines that makes the air campaign happen in Libya but not in Syria? Well, for one the air campaign in Libya. It is not possible that NATO – in this case UK, France, Denmark and Norway, to mention those countries do the actual bombing, has the means, stamina and will for another air campaign. In the case of Libya their own diplomats also early on broke rank and asked the security council to intervene. In Europe Sarkozy quick followed up the request from Libyan diplomats at the UN with a proposal that EU should freeze the Qaddafi familiy fund and the day after with a the statement “Qaddafi must go!” Nothing remotely similar has happened in the case of Syria. The ranks have not broken and no far reaching move against assets of the Assad regime in Europe have been detected. From a EU perspective we have so far seen this from the high representative on the violence in Syria.
Furthermore we have the Arab League – a lethargic group of fossilized puffed-up self important no-goods. They managed something unique when they in an unanimous statement asked the security council to approve a no-fly zone over Libya, on one of its own members. This is not likely to happen again, anytime soon. Not with Syria. Not with what is happening in Baharin and Yemen and boiling under the surface in Saudi Arabia. And without the backing of the Arab League I find it hard to fathom that Russia and China would go along with anything remotely similar to the open ended writing of UNSCR 1973/2011 – “take all neccessary measures” to protect the civilian population, not after they way they feel they where duped, conned, scammed. So what can we except?
According to the International Herald Tribune USA and European nations are circulating a draft security council statement condemning violence against protesters and calling on the government to respect basic human rights as well as endorsing the call of Ban Ki-mon for calling for an independent investigation into the mounting death toll. This might not seem as much, and it is not, but at present where we are in the political process, what is possible in the security council. But if a strongly worded statement can find its way through the security council and gather a broad support with few/without any abstentions this would be a warning that Bashar al-Assad could not ignore. Stand down your troops or risk enraging members of the security council and thereby an escalation could take you to uncharted territory. We have to see this as a first step.
That it took this long for even a draft statement to make an appearance is a testament to to two factors: the fear of what might come after Bashar al-Assads, that what will replace him will be much worse for the stability of the region (i.e. more of a threat to Israel). That and way that USA and the EU view of Syria as the Yugoslavia if the Middle East, i.e. as a tinderbox of religio-ethnic conflict waiting to happen.
Both these factors have skillfully been used by the Syrian regime and by the an unlikely ally – Israel. The later has been pressuring the Obama administration to ease of the pressure on Syria. This in part of the fear that if the secular regime of Bashar al-Assad is pushed out it would be replaced by one dominated by religious Sunni. This might break the alliance with Iran and weaken Hezbollah, but strengthen Hamas and other Palestinian groups hold up in Damascus such as PFLP-GC. A new regime might also be tempted to heat up the deep frozen conflict with Israel as a way to rally people around the flag. We are not talking about a war, but unrest along the very, very quite broder area with Syria. Quite thanks to Bashar al-Assad, that is.
As for United States and EU, what will the response be from these two actors? Well, the USA is looking into targeted sanctions against the Syrian regime – the freezing of assets and a ban of U.S. business dealings. This will be nothing but symbolic as Syria has been under sanctions from the USA for quite some time. There are those that argue against sanctions, especially from the USA. And this is probably true, that USA sanctions can be used as propaganda by the regime that they are being attacked by a foreign conspiracy. But inaction is not an option. That is also a way to empower the regime. Inaction is passive endorsement of the killing of protesters by the regime, something the EU should have in mind.