Syria: on the verge of a failed state
March was the bloodiest month in Syria’s two-year-old conflict with more than 6,000 documented deaths – one third of them civilians – according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The human rights group believes that the total death toll in this terrible conflict has now reached 62,554; it stresses that this is a conservative estimate and the true figure could be twice as high. Around 200,000 Syrians have also been imprisoned by the Assad regime, where torture is common practice.
Two years after the first protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted Syria is on the verge of becoming a failed state. It’s social fabric is about to collapse, the international community looks on helplessly – unable or unwilling to do anything, al-Qaeda linked jihadists have infiltrated some of the opposition groups, the murderous regime shows no sign of backing down, two million people have been displaced within Syria, another million are in refugee camps outside the country, atrocities have intensified and no solution seems to be in sight.
The conflict has also involved Syria’s neighbours. Fighting has spread over across the Turkish border and in January Israel conducted air strikes near Damascus to prevent anti-aircraft missiles being transported to Hizbollah in Lebanon. During the Israeli air strikes a nearby research centre on biological and chemical weapons was also damaged. These weapons could easily fall into the wrong hands, and further complicate an already very complicated situation.
The Syrian revolution was always going to be a very bloody and complex affair. As soon as the protests erupted, Bashar al-Assad embarked on a strategy of violence and terror. The President never showed the slightest inclination to embark on a path of peaceful reforms; his response was simple: kill anyone who opposed him, turn the Alawite minority against the Sunni majority and fan the flames of sectarian violence so that the West would shy away from getting involved in such a scenario. Peaceful demonstrators had no option but to turn into militias and another Muslim country became a magnet for Islamic jihadists who wanted to fight with their Sunni brethren.
There is currently a de facto military stalemate in Syria as although the rebels have made some gains, Assad’s regime shows no sign of collapsing. He is still supported by his minority Alawites who he has convinced will be slaughtered should the Sunni rebels take over; sadly, most of the Christian and Druze minorities also feel they are in the same position. Furthermore, Assad is supported, financed and armed by Russia and Iran, and some believe even Iraq. The President also has 50,000 loyal well-armed troops and thousands of loyal militia members, as well as the support of Lebanon’s Shi’ite militia, Hizbollah.
Although in the long run Assad cannot win this war, it is clear that it will take a long time for him to be overthrown. In the meantime, however, if the international community continues to refuse to intervene, the situation will continue to deteriorate, the massacres will increase, the country will be split into fiefdoms and the Jihadist rebels will gain the upper hand within the opposition movement.
Furthermore, Syria’s chemical and biological weapons could easily fall into the wrong hands, Israel could get involved if it fears these weapons could be used against them or if the jihadist rebels attack it from the Golan Heights, and Lebanon and Jordan will be will destabilised by more refugees and because Assad will cause trouble there.
Unfortunately, Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed any meaningful action against Syria at the UN Security Council. The time has come, however, to move beyond the UN stage and for some type of intervention to take place by countries willing to try to save Syria from disintegrating and further genocide.
Regretfully, the call by Britain and France for the EU to drop its arms embargo on Syria’s rebels was rejected by the bloc’s other members (including Malta), but this does not mean individual countries cannot supply weapons to non-jihadist rebels on a bilateral basis. US President Barack Obama has a particular responsibility to do something before the situation gets out of control. A no-fly zone over Syria would be a good start, and would send out the right signal to the Assad regime, as would sending arms to the moderate elements within the rebel movement.
There are risks, of course, for such a course of action, but the status quo is not acceptable, and the longer the world looks on helplessly, the greater the risks to the whole region.