Alan George: The world waits for Damascus to go a step too far

Related Topics

Nearly nine weeks after Bashar al-Assad's regime formally agreed the UN six-point peace plan, and six weeks after the ceasefire was supposed to come into effect, the killing continues unabated.

No one should be surprised. For this regime, the Kofi Annan plan was never more than a fig leaf for its continued attempts to bludgeon the opposition into submission. Damascus knows that Russia and China will continue to veto any meaningful action by the Security Council. Assad can count on the loyalty of key military and intelligence units dominated by his Alawite sect. Regionally, he enjoys the unwavering support of Iran and the tacit support of neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon. International sanctions have had an impact, but will not by themselves bring down this regime.

Crucially, the Syrian dictator calculates – correctly – that the West has little appetite for direct military intervention. Harsh words are all he has to fear from the likes of Barack Obama or William Hague.

This is a regime that has always ruled by terror. With the world sitting on its hands and with key global and regional states onside, it has had no reason to alter its strategy. It has been careful, however, not to kill on a scale that might shift the global balance. It appears to have calibrated its violence carefully. Usually, it guns down or cuts the throats of "only" 30 or 40 people per day.

That may change. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are now supporting the rebels with more than empty words. The new equipment reaching the Free Syrian Army is likely to include weaponry effective against armoured vehicles.

If the regime is no longer able to use its armour at will, it may have to rely increasingly on long-range artillery and air attack – with horrendous implications for casualties. In turn, this could swing international public opinion decisively against the regime, making serious intervention more likely.

The conflict looks certain to be long and bloody. The longer it continues, the more chance of extremist Islamist involvement, the greater the danger that it will spill over into neighbouring states, and the greater the risk of sectarian war, Syria being a patchwork of antagonistic religious and ethnic communities.

The world worries that intervening might make matters worse. But serious intervention could decisively shorten the war – and thus minimise the very risks that the world most fears.

Alan George is a senior associate member of St Antony's College, Oxford. He is the author of 'Syria: Neither Bread Nor Freedom'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner - Night Shift

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A leading Leicestershire based chilled food ma...

Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Day In a Page

Read Next

If I were Prime Minister: I'd champion the young and hold a cabinet meeting on top of Ben Nevis

Bear Grylls

i Editor's Letter: The five reasons why I vote

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot