Mary Dejevsky: The Euro crisis will look
like a walk in the park if Syria explodes

Even those interventions filed in the 'success' box

have yet to produce orderly, self-reliant states

Share
Related Topics

After Houla comes Qubair in Syria's Hama province. Upwards of 70 people, including women and children, have been slaughtered. As with Houla, where more than 100 were killed in similarly barbaric ways, President Bashar al-Assad blames "terrorists"; his enemies blame Assad, and inexorably the pressure mounts for outside intervention. The calls come from Syrian opposition leaders, who equate their cause with that of the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya. And they come from ordinary people and politicians, distressed by the multiplying massacres of the innocent. The urging is loud and it is impassioned. It should be resisted at all costs.

At every level the picture is deceptive. Even on the smallest, most local scale things are less black and white than they have been made to look. Take Houla. For many proponents of intervention, it will be sufficient that 108 people, including women and children, were killed in cold blood. But initial accounts spoke of young children with cut throats. Not apparently true; all, it is now said, were shot when gunmen sprayed living quarters indiscriminately.

That is bad enough, but it is not quite the same as singling out children and slashing their throats. Nor, strictly speaking, were the victims political opponents of the Assad regime. Local clan rivalries, rather than national politics, are now blamed. Even the assumption that Assad forces were responsible for the carnage is not quite true. In both Houla and now Qubair, it is shabiha militias – from Assad's Alawite clan, but not regular army troops – that are identified as the culprits.

In many ways, these truths force a more pessimistic prognosis than the version initially put out – whether in ignorance or for propaganda purposes – by the anti-Assad opposition. If what began as an uprising is already manifesting itself along clan and religious lines, the enforced departure of Assad will not settle the dispute. It will merely rip the lid off, and allow oxygen into an already seething cauldron of strife, as foreign intervention did in Iraq. Is that something the Americans or the British, with or without the French, should get themselves into? Just as we have ended the painful withdrawal from Iraq and are still trying to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan?

Even those interventions filed away in the "successful" box – Kosovo, Libya – have yet to produce orderly, self-reliant states. Kosovo, while now recognised by most countries as independent, is not viable as such in either economic or security terms, and will not be for a very long time, if ever. The Western military assessment of the Libyan operation is that the whole enterprise came so close to failure at times as to render it useless as a model. While presented as an exclusively aerial intervention, it required far more Special Forces on the ground than has been openly acknowledged, and the victorious opposition still struggles to control the country. Militias, with tanks, shut down Tripoli airport only this week.

Syria is a far more complex proposition. There are far more Syrians than Libyans; the country is more divided in every respect, and Assad himself – still – enjoys stronger support in more of the country than either the opposition or its foreign sympathisers like to admit. Indeed, the more that law and order deteriorates, the more Syrians may look to the regime, or its semi-detached militias, for protection. But the most compelling reason why outsiders should resist the calls for intervention, however emotive the newspaper headlines and television pictures, lies not in Syria itself, but in the neighbourhood.

Russia and China may have ranged themselves against the Western powers over the immediate future of Assad, but this shadow of the Cold War is benign compared with the real flames now licking at the Middle East. A late-arrival at the Arab Spring, Syria is already becoming the battlefield for a proxy war between the Gulf States and the Saudis on the one hand, and Iran on the other; between the Sunni power-holders to the south and the Shia to the east.

While the US and others hesitate to supply weapons to the opposition, they have tacitly encouraged consignments from elsewhere – into a region already awash with arms. Syria's violence is already spilling over into Lebanon, where power and demography – as between Christian and Muslim, Sunni and Shia, Lebanese and Palestinian – are so finely balanced. Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, has seen street fighting in recent weeks. South and west of Syria lie Israel, Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories.

To the east, Iraq, with its majority Shia population and defeated Sunni minority, remains unstable, with the Kurdish region in the north independent in all but name. Iraq's Kurds now have representations abroad that look increasingly like diplomatic missions. Any hint of pressure from Baghdad, a more aggressive stance from Turkey, or more general regional turmoil, and the demand for full Kurdish independence could become urgent. That would inevitably precipitate a new surge of discontent in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iran and Syria. Kurdish statehood – beyond northern Iraq – has so far been an eventuality almost too sensitive to mention, lest the word fuel demands for the deed.

If the violence in Syria escalates, with or without Assad, and outsiders intervene, it will be almost impossible to confine the turmoil within that country's borders. Even in more self-contained Libya, the overthrow of Gaddafi had unforeseen cross-border fallout – producing a coup and a power vacuum in Mali. With Syria, the risk is already of a region-wide conflagration in which almost every national border and every seat of power could be up for grabs.

For now, it is utterly disingenuous of the US and Britain to call for action in Syria and blame Russia for being obstructive; a compliant Russia would only expose Western impotence. The reality is twofold. The first is that Kofi Annan's UN-backed plan, ailing and ineffectual as even he recognises it to be, is all that separates the region from mayhem. The second is that there are times when durable resolution is only possible when enemies are left, literally, to fight it out. From Europe, the current euro crisis might look like a threat to the world as we know it. But it is nothing, absolutely nothing, compared with what could happen if Syria explodes.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Biology Teacher

Main Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Biology Teacher to A Level - Female...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Girls were by far the most worried about their appearance, the survey found  

English children are among the unhappiest in the world. We are failing them.

Natasha Devon
 

Daily catch-up: eurogloom, Ed in Red and Cameron’s Wilsonian U-turn on control orders

John Rentoul
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering