Is the Libya model applicable to Syria?

March 02, 2012, Friday/ 14:54:00

After the veto of the Arab League’s Syria Plan in the United Nations Security Council, the International Conference of “Friends of Syria” showed that there are differences in opinion among the actors on the method to follow in Syria. Whereas Saudi Arabia and Qatar advocates the arming of the Syrian opposition, the majority takes a dim view towards that on the grounds that it will worsen the clashes. The actors, who support the change, “do not want to hand over arms, before grasping the essence of the Syrian opposition clearly”, in the words of the US Chief of Staff.

Most of the people, who take part in the uprising in Syria, are common people. The dissidents consist of the people, who try to defend themselves and who are at the bottom of the society. These groups are getting more organized day by day but they aren’t sufficiently organized yet. Furthermore there is an asymmetric power balance between the armed opposition and the Syria army. Because of this, the change in Syria is not possible unless there is an international support.

Different approaches by different countries make it harder to move in a coordinated way. The meeting in Tunisia clearly put forward the situation. It is expected that, the Friends of Syria Group will be better coordinated in the meetings in France and Turkey, just like the Syrian opposition managed to organize well. In the current situation, there is a consensus about increasing political and diplomatic sanctions and supporting the opposition. However, everyone knows that the solution must include an armed dimension. While the arming of the opposition and the option of international intervention were not accepted in Tunisia meeting, there was a consensus about establishing a “humanitarian assistance corridor.”

At this stage, only some people within the Syrian opposition utter the option of international intervention. It concerns everyone about that an international intervention, which has a low chance of success, may cause a new Iraq or Afghanistan in the region. Besides, there is a possibility that the war might spill over to the region and attain an international dimension. It is also known that the intervention might negatively affect the domestic stability in Syria. There might be some consequences such as long-term guerrilla resistance and safe havens for terrorist groups. The pro-opposition statements by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, are considered important in this context.

Thereby, the resolution of the Syria crisis is a big mystery. The offered options could not be implemented because of the difficulty in applying, the inability to foresee the outcomes, the possibility to bring about a worse situation, and the low chance of success. The most debated option is an armed intervention. It is claimed that while a comprehensive international intervention is very difficult, the same kind of intervention that is seen in Libya could be implemented in Syria. However, the conditions, which made an international intervention possible in Libya, do not exist in Syria; therefore an international intervention is not likely to happen yet.

The conditions, which made the international intervention possible in Libya, were the rifts within the Gaddafi regime, the defections by ranked military officers and politicians from Gaddafi’s side to the opposition’s side, the existence of a homogeneous political and armed opposition, who can struggle with the central authority and relatively organized, the international legitimacy of the opposition and the most important of all the capture of Benghazi as a safe haven.

However, in the case of Syria, we can observe that none of these factors exists completely. The defections from Syrian regime are very low rate in terms of quality and quantity. Apart from some diplomats and some deputies from politicians and bureaucrats, there is no substantial defection. It can be seen that Assad Regime stills retains control on the state officials. Defections within the security forces are comparatively more but it is not enough to tip the balance between the Syrian army and the opposition in the favor of the opposition. Brigadier General Ahmad Al-Seyh, who took shelter in Turkey at the beginning of 2012, is the most high-ranking defection up to now. Except him the number of officers, who defected from the Syrian army and established the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is fifteen thousand, according to officers of FSA. The leader of the FSA is an officer with the rank of colonel. Considering the political opposition, it is observed that it doesn’t have the capacity to directly manage and influence the popular uprising. There is also a problem about the homogeneity of political and military opposition in Syria. While the FSA pioneers the armed opposition, the leadership stationed in Turkey lacks the capacity to influence the domestic structure and the domestic elements lacks coordination among themselves. Besides, military organizations other than the FSA, such as the Military Council, start to emerge. The political opposition suffers from the problem of homogeneity as well. Although there is the Syrian National Council, who becomes prominent, there are some other alternatives in Syria, which is active and has different approaches, such as the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change.

Lastly, there is the lack of a capture and maintenance of a safe haven by the opposition. In spite of the fact that FSA has taken the control in suburbs of Homs, Hama, Idlib even Damascus, it is not permanent and cannot spread to the whole city.

Another method of international intervention is to create a safe haven through foreign support, which the opposition failed. The creation of a safe haven will prevent more Syrian civilian deaths and will enable the fractured opposition to be better organized. The opposition will carry out a more effective struggle against the regime from this safe haven. Foremost, this will speed up defections by security forces, who wants to defect but cannot do because of the fear of death. The most critical risk of this kind of intervention is that the Syrian regime will perceive this as a vital threat and will attack, thus will widen the violence and the range of instability. In turn this will necessitate a larger armed intervention, which no one thinks about it at this stage. Furthermore, the place, where the safe haven will be established, is another question. Because of the fact that the settlements in Syria has a complex structure, it is not possible to find a homogeneous population, who opposes the regime. And this may cause conflicts within the secured zone. Hence, this will damage both the legitimacy and success of the intervention.