Amos Yadlin: Only bombing Assad's forces will stop the slaughter now

It need not become 'another Iraq' and the Syrian military challenge can be met

Share

President Bashar al-Assad continues to exploit the international community's propensity to turn a blind eye to the escalation in Syria, which now results in the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians each week. Thus in order to avoid a Syrian civil war, Western resolve to use its leverage beyond the weak condemnations, publicised summits, and ineffectual initiatives of the past months is likely to be tested.

Indeed, examination indicates that six arguments propounded by opponents of Western military intervention do not hold much water, and instead suggests that Western inaction is likely to hasten the very scenario that opponents of military intervention seek to avoid.

First, Syria need not become "another Iraq". Those who resist intervention warn that military intervention might end in the West becoming mired in another Muslim country, on the heels of the unsuccessful Afghan and Iraqi experiences. This argument belittles the West's successful experience in Kosovo 20 years ago and in Libya in 2011, where intensive airpower removed Gaddafi, stopped the bloodbath, and enabled democratic elections.

Moreover, a military intervention need not involve a ground invasion or even peacekeeping forces – which, in any case, would have little influence on Assad. The recommended model, built on the lessons of Iraq, is a Western aerial campaign that paves the way for regime change, as it did in Kosovo and in Libya. There are no "boots on the ground", at least initially (and should that become necessary, Turkish forces should be assigned to this mission).

The suggested strategy in Syria is to use gradual steps to convince Assad that an international campaign is a credible option: from moving aircraft carriers to the region and Turkish ground forces to the border, to reconnaissance sorties, no-fly zones, and humanitarian corridors.

Second, the Syrian military challenge can be met. Another argument postulates that the Syrian military presents a bigger threat to Western militaries than those confronted in Iraq and Libya. The Syrian defensive capability is not dramatically greater than Iraq's of 1991 or 2003, which already included advanced Russian systems. As the Syrian military has been preoccupied with internal uprisings over the past year and a half, it is likely that its capabilities have even eroded. Therefore, those who doubt the West's capacity to face the current Syrian defence ignore the fact that Western power was built to cope with much greater challenges.

Third, the lack of international consensus cannot justify passivity. Those who call for passivity in Syria claim that since there is no consensus among members of the UN Security Council and no explicit Arab League request, there is no legitimacy for foreign military intervention. These arguments ignore the moral obligation − the "Responsibility to Protect" principle − endorsed by the West.

This principle, formally adopted by the UN in 2005, declared the international community's obligation to halt and prevent mass atrocity crimes. In today's situation, it compels Western leaders to act with the Arab League to stop the massacre of Syrian civilians by the regime. It also obliges the Western powers to promote this campaign with their allies if Russia and China obstruct any broad endeavour under the UN framework. In any case, no Russian, Chinese, or Arab opposition justifies passivity while Assad's regime continues to slaughter the Syrian people.

Fourth, deterioration is not a risk of intervention, rather a result of non-intervention. Some contend that military intervention would result in social chaos and escalation of violence, as there is, thus far, no apparent force or future administration that could restore peace to the country. However, since events in Syria have already created the threat of full-scale civil war, this is not a risk of intervention, but of doing nothing. Every day that passes deepens the hatred between Syria's different ethnic groups and increases the challenge of restoring public order. As the ethnic issue is a regional ticking bomb, the deterioration in Syria might easily spill over its borders, with region-wide consequences. On a related note, military intervention also enables Western powers to cope with the potential use of chemical weapons – by the regime against the rebels, or by terror organisations against Western targets.

Fifth, the Syrian opposition presents an opportunity for cooperation. Another instance of faulty logic is that the West should avoid military intervention since there is no emerging leadership to leverage international support to exile Assad's regime and effectively manage the country "the day after" his fall. The Syrian opposition coalition, however, has scored both military and territorial achievements over the past months. Recent events indicate that the opposition has generated enough momentum to significantly challenge one of the strongest armies in the region. Accordingly, current conditions favour more successful cooperation between the West and the regime's opposition than those who oppose military intervention suggest.

Finally, action in Syria might support the international campaign against Iran. Those who oppose intervening contend that it would increase Middle East tensions, move Iran out of the international focus, and sharpen the rift between Russia and China and the other members of the P5+1 who lead the negotiations with Tehran.

Acting in Syria however, could weaken, if not break, the nexus between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Palestinian terror organisations, and therefore likely contain Iranian influence in the Levant. This would have a dramatic impact on the balance of power between radical and pragmatic forces in the region. And it would signal to Iran the West's resolve to back up its interests and threats with force. When the US used force in Iraq in 2003, Iran suspended its nuclear programme. This time, force might put additional pressure on Ayatollah Khamenei. A "Syria first" approach might complement international efforts and undermine Tehran's recalcitrance vis-à-vis the West.

A gradual military intervention along the lines of the Libyan model of a Western aerial campaign seems the most effective response to the Syrian crisis. Only if Assad assesses that Western intervention is a real threat might he abdicate and make room for leadership with better prospects for halting the violence. The West must not let unfounded fears guide its policy while atrocities in Syria continue.

Amos Yadlin is Executive Director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and former Head of Military Intelligence of the Israeli Defence Forces

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'