Syria's quagmire points to eventual foreign intervention
The most realistic scenario in Syria is quagmire: Assad still has loyalty; the opposition is splintered, though protests continue; and the international community is indecisive, including the Arab League. But stalemate could finally prompt foreign intervention and a needed 'safe zone.'
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Looking at Syria through this “quagmire” lens, the country’s future is neither a “Tunisia-style,” peaceful, transition nor a “Libya-style,” relatively quick, civil war that defeats the previous regime.Skip to next paragraph
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At home, the violence of a prolonged quagmire will have an extremely high humanitarian cost. As regime brutality continues, new refugees will be created and the civilian population will keep paying the price in disrupted and destroyed lives.
Regionally, a failed state in limbo could affect the balance of power. A weakened Syrian regime, for instance, could lose its role as the strongman of Lebanon’s politics. That, in turn, promises to change internal Lebanese dynamics, for example by giving a powerful second wind to the “Cedar Revolution” and its supporters.
This could also reduce Syria’s capacity to back Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as to ensure the channeling of weapons and resources to Hezbollah from Iran. This will disrupt the region’s so-called axis of resistance, composed of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.
Prolonged instability in Syria may not just negatively affect Iran, but – paradoxically – it may also be bad for one of the country’s main foes, Israel. Indeed, this neighbor fears Assad initiating conflict against Israel as a diversion from his internal struggle (admittedly an unlikely scenario). And it fears the spread of anarchy within Syria, potentially affecting the quiet of the Syrian-Israeli border.
For all these reasons, the continuation of the status quo, although the most likely scenario, is not the most auspicious one. This makes even more urgent the debate over stronger international intervention – first through the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria.
Such a zone would establish a haven for Syrian civilians fleeing persecution, as well as allow the opposition forces to regroup and get organized politically and militarily. Those are key factors in allowing them to challenge the regime.
Benedetta Berti is a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, and coauthor of the forthcoming book, “Hamas and Hezbollah: A Comparative Study" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).