‘Military intervention in Syria not completely ruled out’

An internationally supported military intervention in Syria could still take place »»

An internationally supported military intervention in Syria could still take place as a last resort for settling the Syrian crisis, given that recent international efforts are unlikely to affect the status quo and the conflict will not end in the near future, political observers have claimed.

“The situation in Syria could evolve into a military intervention with the support of global powers,” Veysel Ayhan, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), told Sunday’s Zaman last week.

The Syrian regime announced a compromise on March 28 over UN-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, pledging that it will withdraw its forces from Syrian towns and order a cease-fire. However, until now, no significant efforts by the Syrian regime to pull out its forces have been observed, and killings continue in the restive regions of Homs and Idlib.

Looking to the ongoing conflict despite the regime’s promise, many observers claimed that one of the most viable options is arming the dissident groups, in order to create a balance of power between the regime and opposition forces.

The Friends of Syria expressed support for “legitimate measures by the Syrian population to protect themselves,” in a final communiqué issued last Sunday following the group’s İstanbul gathering; however, the statement does not specify what those “legitimate measures” are.

“That communiqué is likely to be perceived as grounds to strengthen the opposition militarily, in order to protect themselves,” said Cenap Çakmak, head of the international relations department at Eskişehir’s Osmangazi University.

Meanwhile, Ayhan maintained that arming the opposition would nullify other efforts, such as the Annan plan, which aims to see a truce between the dissidents and regime.

“If the Syrian opposition received armed support, then nobody should expect a truce at the end. Once the opposition has the military advantage, it would really be difficult to bring it back into line with a political initiative, even if the Syrian regime assents to an immediate cease-fire,” Ayhan claimed. So, a military intervention should be a last resort, he maintained.

Meanwhile, Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Arabic al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, asserted that the current deadlock in the restive country is likely to go on for some time longer, saying that Western governments are reluctant to step in with a military intervention in the near future. But he did not rule out a military option at the end of the day.

He assessed that Western governments are waiting for Iranian nuclear talks to come to a conclusion first. “If they cannot get any results from the prospective talks, they will probably choose to attack Iran,” Atwan said, claiming that Western forces may also target Syria in the event that such an attack on Iran takes place.

Some opposition members who attended the İstanbul gathering favored rapid action, either by giving arms support to the anti-regime Free Syrian Army (FSA), which aims to unite rebel groups under its umbrella, or in the form of a military intervention.

On Thursday, UN spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi said in an announcement that an advance team sent by Annan to oversee the cease-fire was due to arrive in Damascus on Thursday. Their deployment would require a UN Security Council resolution.

Ankara has claimed that it hadn’t yet been asked to contribute troops to the proposed mission.

Farah Atassi, a political activist and member of the Syrian National Bloc and National Syrian Women Association, lamented that the İstanbul meeting did not come up with any solutions involving prompt action. She stated her discontent with the international community that does not “translate its words into actions.”

She claimed that Turkey could play the leadership role and head an initiative such as sending troops to Syria, with the help of members of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

A commander of the FSA, Mahmoud Bakur, also called last Tuesday for humanitarian intervention. “We want a humanitarian corridor and buffer zones to be set up,” Bakur told.

Turkish leaders said they would take the necessary measures in the event of an influx of refugees, including establishing a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on March 16 that setting up a “safe” or “buffer” zone along the border was among the options his government was considering. Analysts say such plans may require sending troops to secure the area, because the Syrian government would not agree to such zones being established on Syrian territory; therefore, a buffer zone would pose similar problems to a military intervention.