Despite its involvement, the international community – including the Arab League – has not been willing to strongly take sides in Syria, as it did in Libya. Short of this type of intervention the future of the revolt seems to depend only on the internal balance of power between the regime and its opponents.
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 and disrupt the region’s so-called axis of resistance, composed of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Prolonged instability in Syria may also be bad for one of the country’s main foes, Israel. It fears the spread of anarchy could affect the quiet of the Syrian-Israeli border.
These concerns make 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).