Ways the US may fall into Syria

2013-06-05 11:57
Senator John McCain, centre, accompanied by Moustafa, right, visits rebels in Syria. (Syrian Emergency Task Force, Mouaz Moustafa/ AP)

Senator John McCain, centre, accompanied by Moustafa, right, visits rebels in Syria. (Syrian Emergency Task Force, Mouaz Moustafa/ AP)

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Chicago - If any conflict breaks out in the world you can be assured US Senator John McCain will be calling for the US to intervene. McCain has been calling for the USA to get directly involved in the conflict in Syria since the outbreak of fighting began in early 2011. Although he recently slipped up, in rather dramatic fashion, he may still get his wish for further US involvement.
McCain demonstrated the difficulties and nuances of the civil war with a secret trip to Syria last week, during which he went to visit the rebels, and enjoyed a few photographs with folks welcoming a senior US presence to the war effort. Yet he happened to be photographed with Mohamed Nour, one of the rebels, who the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star refers to as "a known affiliate of the rebel group responsible for the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims one year ago".

If foreign policy hawk John McCain, while in Syria, alongside what we can presume is a managed media effort, being guided by the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, can't tell when he is being pictured with a terrorist, then how realistic is the threat of rebel-bound weapons ending up in the wrong hands, should the US decide to arm the rebels?
McCain's anecdotal mistake isn't detracting from what seems to be the common wisdom as to what the international community's next action should be: Assisting the rebels, including with weaponry. Europe has already dropped its arms embargo on Syria – cheered on by US Secretary of State John Kerry – allowing it to legally move weaponry into the country. 
Barry Pavel, director of the Brent Scowcroft Centre on International Security at the Atlantic Council agrees this is also the USA's next likely move. He told News24 on Tuesday, "I think there is [a way to send weapons to the correct rebel forces]. If it's been two years, and the most capable intelligence agency in the world can't [identify which rebel groups should get weapons] then we have bigger problems to deal with. I think it's doable and I think that's the next step."
The potential for the US to become physically involved remains, however. The Syria-Turkey border is becoming a more and more active fighting zone. This is significant because it is where rebel forces regroup – as The Atlantic reports, "Over the past two years, the opposition has used Turkey to gather resources to aid its fight inside Syria. But the country no longer acts solely as a pipeline for money, aid, and weapons. It has become a home base for rebel soldiers to co-ordinate and heal before heading back to fight. It provides space for a complicated web of fractious groups that support various opposition forces in Syria."

Red line

The Syrian civil war is not limited to the borders of Syria. Pavel explained, "Things are spilling over much more intensively and much more broadly so you have lots of impact now on Lebanon, on Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Turkey.
"There is a very real chance that the fighting will spill over into Turkey due to Assad's pursuit of rebels, and involving Turkey will cause all sorts of complications due to its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [Nato]. The famed Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty – essentially declaring that an attack against one member is an attack against all. The treaty commits all members to the defence of the attacked member, "to restore and maintain the security".
"Turkey, several months ago," said Pavel, "asked for Nato assistance in accordance with the North Atlantic Treaty, which was what ultimately led Nato to deploy Patriot air defence units to help defend Turkey. I think those came from a few countries as I recall: Germany, the Netherlands, the US. You can certainly imagine more and perhaps different contingencies that might come up as a result of this. So it's certainly very plausible, unfortunately."
While Nato's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has continually backed a political resolution to the Syrian conflict, he said to CNN on Friday, "As far as Nato is concerned we have one red line and that is the defence of our ally, Turkey."
And then there's the USA’s number one ally, Israel, which has already allegedly targeted specific Syrian sites with its air force. Hezbollah's dalliance with Assad forces means Israel is an interested party in the Syrian conflict. As Pavel explained, "One of the biggest trends we've seen in the last few weeks has been increasing  moves to protect Assad by Hezbollah, and by Iran, and to a degree by Russia, so when an avowed enemy of Israel says  'We're all in to defend Assad' you're going to see Israel get more active."

Preparing for all eventualities

Would an Israeli war with Syria force the USA to become involved? Pavel didn't buy it. "Israel is a very capable military power," he said, "I'm not convinced about that."  Although the Israeli military is indeed incredibly powerful, it is likely Obama would face huge pressure at home to help out the USA's closest ally.
Even though the USA's response to the Syrian conflict is to tread carefully, there are routes through which it may be forced in. And the US is at least preparing for all eventualities, which was exemplified in a Daily Beast report last week, which claimed the president was reviewing a Department of Defence plan for a no-fly zone.

Don't read too much into it though, says Pavel, "The Pentagon is constantly planning for various contingencies because they need to be ready if the president says 'tomorrow I'm deciding on this'. Just because they are developing plans doesn't mean automatically it's going to happen. It's pretty clear to me that the next move is going to be arming legitimate rebel groups. I would be very surprised if that didn't happen over the course of the [American] summer."
Read more on:    nato  |  john maccain  |  turkey  |  us  |  syria  |  syria conflict  |  uprisings

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