The word that the Bashar Al-Assad Regime is now attacking it’s own civilians via the air is not good on many levels, beyond the obvious insanity of using a nation’s own air arm against it’s citizens. This is an alarming sign by the Al-Assad Regime as they know full well that such a move will help make the case for immediate foreign intervention, which is a very bad prospect for a regime that is already struggling to survive. The truth is that Syria possess some seriously nasty chemical weapons that the regime could deploy via their military aircraft against towns where dissent is rampant. We saw this in Iraq during the early 1990s, when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds, and many governments around the world swore that they would not allow such an act to ever happen again.
If Syrian air power continues to be used break the back of the opposition in what is clearly evolving into a full-blown civil war, then just the prospect of a gas attack happening may be enough for the world to act militarily against the Assad regime. This would most likely come in the form of the establishment of a “no-fly zone,” but as anyone who picks up a paper knows, “no-fly zones” can quickly morph into a full aerial bombardment air campaign. Hopefully the Arab League will see the use of attack helicopters over Homs today as enough reason to implement a no-fly zone themselves. This would be the best thing possible as it would most likely limit such an act to a counter-air operation only, and it would not end up looking like yet another predominantly Muslim country is getting bombed by predominantly Christian western nations, although the likelihood of the Arab League acting alone is very, very low. The west on the other hand has become very sick of interventionist military operations, and frankly, money for such an operation may not be forthcoming under the current economic realities, especially after many nations have just spent billions on the Libyan excursion.
The problem with NATO or a mixed coalition leading such a counter-air operation is that Russia, and to a minor extent China, are totally against an interventionist approach when it comes to Syria, as they back the Assad regime’s right to exist. They take this stance for many reasons, much of them we have discussed here before, such as trade, most notably Russia’s arms exports to Syria, and especially the incredibly valuable strategic naval port in Tartus, Russia’s only naval logistics base on the Mediterranean. As things continue to deteriorate in Syria NATO could still just push for a no-fly zone only, where the use of air to ground munitions would only be limited to threatening air defense related infrastructure. This would at least keep Syria’s air force grounded, thus limiting the Assad Regime’s ability to disperse WMD to mainly artillery shells and their own SCUD missiles. It would also allow for Syrian airspace to be sanitized under the auspices of a no-fly zone, which would be very important in a situation where WMD production and storage facilities have to be seized or destroyed in the event of a total vacuum of power occurring.
That is the magic question inst it? If Assad were to flee, or his regime were decapitated, who will step in and run things until hopefully free elections could be held? The resistance seems very fragmented due to the geography involved in the situation and the Assad Regime’s ability to lay siege to opposition strongholds. In other words, there appears to be no Benghazi like base of operations for the anti-Assad movement. If Bashar Al-Assad and his cohorts were to be overthrown what will then happen to Syria’s potent military hardware, and especially their massive stockpile of chemical weapons which are dispersed around the country at various sites?
The reality is that when it comes to intervening at some point in Syria’s civil war, the west may not have a choice in the matter as there is much more at stake than what meets the eye. Letting loose thousands of tons of chemical weapons, and who knows what else, in that part of the world, surrounded by Iranian proxies and terrorist groups, is simply unacceptable in every way. Thus there would have to be some sort of operation to cordon and control, and/or destroy these weapon stockpiles. This means boots on the ground and pilots in the air.
Sadly, when you look at the current Syrian “equation” it seems apparent that at some point, if anti-Assad forces are victorious, the west would have to take control of the WMDs left over by the regime. This means putting foreign lives at risk executing a very high stakes military operation. Sadly, like so much that has gone on in that part of the world recently there simply appears to be no clear path toward resolving these very scary issues. Conversely it would seem that the rational actors watching the situation closely can only choose from a menu of bad ideas in the hopes of ensuring a positive outcome…