Assad to be punished, not removed

Raed Omari
Raed Omari
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With the scene apparently set for an almost immediate U.S.-led military intervention in Syria, the question now is what the ultimate goal of the secretly planned military strikes should be.

Will the goals be prolonged and intense, aimed at ousting President Bashar al-Assad like the Iraqi scenario in 2003 and the Bosnian Serb scenario in 1995? Will they be short and sharp, targeting the Syrian regime's airfields and its chemical arsenal so as to weaken Assad and bring him to the negotiating table with the opposition? Will they only aim to punish Assad after crossing Barack Obama's red-line warning after the recent chemical attacks believed to be unleashed by his forces?

Except maybe for the first question (the probability of intensive military action to remove Assad from power), I believe that the prospective Western-led military strike on Syria will be short and sharp to weaken the Syrian regime and oblige him to go to Geneva II without any preconditions.

However, the early-estimated air and missile strikes on Syria, amidst news reports that the U.S. and British military planners have drawn up potential targets for missile strikes, would be beneficial for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on the ground.

There emerged new reports very recently about a state of disarray among forces loyal to Assad with the growing possibility of the military strikes. News about defection cases and soldiers seeking shelter inside and outside Syria have also been reported.

This impression – not to say conclusion – is based on the U.S.'s management of the ongoing war in Syria.

The Syrian crisis has been handled by the U.S. and other western powers with indecisiveness, reluctance and hesitation, caused primarily by the rise of radicalism in, and the fragmentation of, the Syrian opposition. Russia's stubborn pro-Assad stance in the U.N. Security Council has also affected the way in which international powers have dealt with the crisis.

All in all, the U.S., with Obama's red-line warning being crossed, felt challenged by Assad and it accepted the challenge

Raed Omari

But with last week's chemical weapon attacks in Damascus' eastern suburb of Ghouta which killed hundreds of civilians, the U.S. is left with no choice but to intervene militarily in Syria, at least to safeguard its super power reputation, having its red-line warning crossed.

Last year, Obama warned Syria over use of chemical or biological weapons, threatening 'enormous consequences' if Assad's regime uses or fails to safeguard weapons of mass destruction.

Now that such weapons have either been used or simply not secured, a punishment is required. There is growing certainty in the U.S. that Assad's regime was behind the chemical weapons attacks. The U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been reportedly affirmed that Washington will soon share evidence that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people.

If it were not for the consideration of its prestige as the world's super power, then why has the U.S. decided to strike Assad's forces now, after three years of a war that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, according to numbers provided by the U.N.

In other words, if it were a violation of human rights that drove the U.S. and other western powers to intervene militarily in Syria after the shocking scene of children's and women's bodies piled up after the claimed nerve gas attack, then why was such a move not taken earlier when thousands were killed with other weapons.

Is it ok to kill with traditional arms and a punishable crime to kill with weapons of mass destruction?

All in all, the U.S., with Obama's red-line warning being crossed, felt challenged by Assad and it accepted the challenge. The Russians knew this already. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who once said that his country "won't allow a Libya-style Syria solution," has been quoted as saying that "Russia will not fight with anyone over Syria," in light of the West's growing determinedness over the military intervention in Syria.

Regional war, still far-reaching

For many observers, the western intervention in Syria could ignite a regional war, such observers base their rationale on the state of division and clash of interests related to the ongoing war in Syria.

But such a possibility is far-reaching, Russia has made it clear that it will not fight over Syria. This weakens the Iranian position and Syria's ability to spread war outside its borders. Hezbollah is busy and exhausted in Syria and now not less competent to strike Israel. Likewise, Israel is not expected to hit back unless hit by Syria, Hezbollah and Iran.

Probably, Lebanon and Jordan are the most concerned countries in the region regarding a possible military strike against Syria.

Lebanon has already begun suffering from the consequences of the Syrian unrest definitely due to the Hezbollah's direct involvement in the ongoing conflict and the Lebanese division over the Shiite militia's participation.

But in Jordan, things are still under control. Except for the influx of the Syrian refugees – nevertheless highly worrying – no retaliation or intelligence action of any kind has been taken by Syria, even though the neighboring kingdom is within the anti-Assad camp.

Unlike Lebanon, Jordan has been committed to a neutral position and diplomatic caution towards the ongoing Syrian war, avoiding antagonizing the Assad regime and Syrian dissidents, a position fueled by fears of security and intelligence action by its northern neighbor.

But things have changed now. Senior military officers from Western and Muslim countries gathered in Jordan on Monday to discuss the regional impact of the war in Syria. Although no statements were said about the agenda and outcomes of the meeting, it was not well-received by Syria but perceived as a change in the kingdom's long-welcomed neutrality.

Plus, the use of chemical weapons in Syria has increased Jordan's security concerns. There is a fear now in the kingdom, though not officially expressed, that chemical weapons from Syria could be directed towards its southern neighbor in retaliation for Jordan's involvement in the war.

But Jordan has taken some defense procedures in anticipation of possible Syrian retribution, requesting from the U.S. the deployment of Patriot anti-missile battery systems and F-16 jet fighters on its borders with Syria.


Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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