With the conflict in Syria back in the 24 hour news cycle, a brief look at what could lie ahead for Syrians is in order, particularly given that it looks like Bashar al-Assad is not relinquishing power any time soon, a scenario that is unpalatable to both Israel and the United States.
The Syrian American Council (SAC) is a Washington-based 501(c)3 grassroots organization which was founded in 2005 and has the following mission:
SAC’s role is to advocate on Syria’s behalf with the United States government including presidents, Secretaries of State and both Congressional bodies. SAC also released a research paper entitled “The Syrian Crisis: A Plan of Action” in which it outlined steps that Washington could take to achieve a peaceful resolution to the civil war. In that paper, SAC outlined why continued inaction by the United States was untenable as shown here:
“1.) The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian and political situations threaten to destabilize the Middle East, without mentioning its staggering cost in terms of lives ended or uprooted by the conflict.
2.) Permitting Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah to wage war against the people of Syria strengthens Iran, while defeating Assad and Hezbollah will deal Iran a severe blow.
3.) Defeating Hezbollah will decrease significant threats to America’s regional allies. It will also prove to Iran that the U.S. will not permit it to act freely throughout the region.
5.) America’s allies increasing frustration with U.S. inaction risks straining strategic relationships with them and prevents the U.S. from building similar relationships with the future leaders of Syria.
6.) A negotiated political settlement is ideal, but Assad remains unwilling to negotiate in good faith. Insufficient or weak action by the U.S and the international community will not pressure him to change his calculation.
7.) Permitting the crisis to escalate risks a major sectarian conflagration, turning Syria into a Jihadi battleground.
8.) Any conceivable outcome of an unaided revolution will produce a Syria indifferent or even hostile to U.S. interests, rather than a key geostrategic partner grateful that a helping hand was extended in its time of need.”
SAC did have one solution of interest; the establishment of a no-fly zone, a tactic that was used by the United States in Iraq between the first and second Iraqi wars as a means to control Saddam Hussein. It was also tactic used in Libya in 2011 as shown in this excerpt from a United Nations press release:
“Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and its supporters.
Adopting resolution 1973 (2011) by a vote of 10 in favour to none against, with 5 abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation), the Council authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory — requesting them to immediately inform the Secretary-General of such measures.
Recognizing the important role of the League of Arab States in the maintenance of international peace and security in the region, and bearing in mind the United Nations Charter’s Chapter VIII, the Council asked the League’s member States to cooperate with other Member States in implementing the no-fly zone.”
According to SAC, since October 2011, pro-democracy Syrians have sent a clear message to the world that no-fly zones are essential for the following reasons:
“1.) Regime air raids are the main killers of civilians in Syria.
Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth stated in August that barrel bombs “pose the greatest threat to Syrian civilians.” According to Syrian Network for Human Rights, Assad is behind over 75% of civilian deaths since 2014.
Russian warplanes are even worse than Assad’s. They regularly target hospitals, schools, bakeries, and markets with airstrikes that kill dozens of civilians. Russian warplanes also drop thermite, napalm, cluster bombs, and other internationally-banned weapons onto civilian areas.
2.) Regime air raids are largely responsible for the current displacement crisis.
New York Times reported that when the regime started barrel-bombing Aleppo heavily in early 2014, some 500,000 Syrian civilians left Aleppo within a month.
Human Rights Watch satellites in February 2015 picked up 1,000 distinct damage sites “strongly consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions,” in Aleppo. There were also 450 such sites in Deraa. Barrel bombs have rendered much of Syria unlivable.
Russia in particular has sought to target facilities that sustain the civilian population in opposition-held areas. On August 16, a Russian air raid destroyed the only hospital serving 400,000 people. Previous air raids have left 1.4 million people without clean water.”
SAC claims that a no-fly zone would protect Syrian civilians and would allow displaced persons to gather in a safe zone rather than leaving Syria for Europe and would allow moderate rebels to attack ISIS without fear of air raid.
SAC notes that Russia’s presence in the civil war (as an invited guest of Assad) does not “scuttle chances for a safe zone” for the following reasons:
2.) Without shooting down Russian planes, the U.S. can also deter Russian violations of a zone through electronic warfare that forces Russian pilots to “fly blind.”
3.) Even if Russia provides the regime more advanced anti-aircraft system, the U.S. can still enforce safe zones with PATRIOT missile batteries in Turkey and Jordan.”
Somehow, I cannot see Russia standing by while the Syrian airfields used by its Air Force are bombed into uselessness, its pilots are blinded and the United States defends the no-fly zone with PATRIOT missiles located in other nations.
According to a recent article by Martin Berger in the New Eastern Outlook, the United States is already setting up a no-fly zone through the installation of radar stations throughout certain parts of Syria. In late August, a radar installation was set up at the al-Shaddadi base, the United States base which is being constructed up in south Hasakah province as shown on this satellite image:
In late August, the United States also set up advanced radar systems just south of the Syria/Turkey border with the alleged purpose of setting up no-fly zones to protect areas of Syria that are controlled by the YPJ/YPG, the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) (YPJ – Women’s Defense Unit and YPG – People’s Protection Unit (male)). It is key to note that Turkey’s President Erdogan has stated that it is Turkey’s policy to exterminate the PYD since it is viewed by the Turkish government as a terrorist organization. Here is a map from Syria Live showing the position of the new advanced radar systems within a few kilometres of the Turkey/Syria border:
If you click here, you can see a brief video on the setting up of the “Rojava Resistance” by United States forces.
As you can imagine, there is also a geopolitical complexity to the setting up of a potential no-fly zone this close to the Turkish border; given that both Turkey and the YPJ/YPG are allies of the United States, one has to wonder what the eventual outcome will be when Turkey realizes that they are the party being watched while the United States acts to protect one of its avowed enemies and America’s friends in the region.
Let’s close with this brief quote from Martin Berger’s article:
“Once a no-fly zone in Syria is declared, this step can followed by high precision weapons being used by the US-led coalition to destroy Syrian airfields, leaving Syrian armed forces without close air support. Should this plan come to fruition, any plane entering the no-fly zone will be detected and destroyed. Back in 2011, Washington was following the same exact path in Libya, first rendering Libyan airfield useless, before destroying radar installations and launch pads that could still prevent strikes on Libyan military facilities.”
At this point, the United States is clearly acting outside of the United Nations as it sets up a radar network in the first steps in the establishment of no-fly zones in Syria. Given that approval of the United Nations Security Council is required to take actions in a sovereign nation, it is becoming increasingly clear that Washington may be doing whatever it wants in Syria. That should make the Syrian American Council happy but I can’t imagine that either Turkey or Russia will be pleased.
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