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- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: World News
Since March, Assad’s plan has been to stifle dissent while keeping his actions under the radar. He tried to isolate and kill dissidents, hoping that the regional tensions in the Middle East would keep both its neighbors and the international community distracted. And for a few months, it worked. The power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran dominated the region. Then the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran was the top news. Syria’s powerful neighbor Turkey found itself dealing with Kurdish rebels to its southeast instead of the growing crisis to the south. But Assad could not cover up attacks on his own people, and they only grew more extreme as the year went on.
And those crackdowns – sending tanks and soldiers into towns and cities, firing indiscriminately on Syrians – cost Assad the support he relied on. In the last month, the world began to turn on him. With the death toll passing 5,000, the United Nations, the European Union, and even the Arab League imposed a series of harsh sanctions that have effectively crippled the Syrian economy. The moves are destroying Assad’s support system and infrastructure, but they are also hurting the Syrian people, and will be particularly devastating to the country in the long run. The two most prominent opposition groups, the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, agreed to coordinate their efforts to protect civilian protesters from any further crackdown by the state. Meanwhile, even Assad’s main backer, Iran, has spoken out against the Syrian leader, telling him to “answer to the demands of [Syria’s] people.”
The Syrian regime is growing increasingly isolated and running low on resources. So what options are left for Assad?
The most immediate choice would be to step down. The Arab League is pushing for Assad to accept moderators and work with the organization to negotiate a settlement of conflict. This deal would more than likely involve him leaving power. Were that to happen, it would likely be followed by Assad fleeing into exile as soon as possible to escape a trial or death. And even then, his options for exile are not great. Lebanon is too unstable to house him, leaving Iran as his only viable stop.
Another option would be for the international community to keep doing what it is doing, and let Syria slide into a costly, violent civil war. Unlike in Libya, there isn’t a major geographical divide between the regime and the opposition. Protesters and the Free Syrian Army are all over the country, and even now that they’re coordinating, they are still far too dispersed to emulate the tactics used by the National Transitional Council in Libya. Any war would turn Assad’s massacres into a slaughter for both sides, with heavy civilian casualties. Whoever won the war would be stuck with a country wrecked both physically and economically.
And if a civil war did break out, that might be the impetus for foreign intervention. A Libya-style intervention – a NATO led, United Nations-sanctioned approach – is highly unlikely. Russia and China have taken tough stances in opposing UN sanctions on Syria, and have spoken out even more so against intervention. Russia has since eased its stance somewhat, but it won’t fully commit. The country has billions in investments in Syria. But intervention isn’t entirely out of the picture. Turkey, which has been dealing with a Syrian refugee crisis and a series of cross border tensions with its neighbor, went from outright opposing intervening in Syria to saying that it is ready for “any scenario.”
Meanwhile, the Arab League itself is growing bolder in its actions against Syria. The only states that went against sanctions were Lebanon, which still falls under Syrian influence via Hezbollah, and Iraq (though that was due to the high number of Iraqi refugees in Syria, and the fact that Iraq has enough issues to worry about without going to war). If things continue to degenerate in Syria, the possibility of an Arab League-mandated military intervention isn’t out of the question.
Either, it seems that Assad has reached the end of the line. No matter what happens in the next month, his plans to stay in power no matter the cost have failed. Something must and will change in Syria. Assad has to go, there’s no question about that. The only question is how he’ll leave, and how many lives it will cost.By Nicholas Slayton, Aslan Media News Content Manager and Contributor
*Photo Credit: syriana2011
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