Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Turkish Mandate in Syria

by Aharon Lapidot

The situation in Syria is very worrying. Each day that passes is another step toward disintegration, which seems inevitable now. This week, we learned of the resignation of the head of the Syrian National Council, Moaz al-Khatib, an opposition leader considered to be a unifying figure. Almost simultaneously, the Free Syrian Army announced that it did not recognize Ghassan Hitto as the prime minister of the rebel government. Hitto had been elected to the role by the heads of opposition factions several days earlier.

Both of these events further increase fears about the complete collapse of the Syrian state. Unlike in Egypt, for example, where there were the Islamists on one side and the military and secularists on the other, in Syria the rebels are divided into dozens of factions conducting all-out war. And after the resignation of Khatib, there apparently is no one with whom to hold a serious discussion about the future of Syria after Bashar al-Assad falls. 

The day after Assad falls will be a major nightmare for Syria's neighbors and for the world as a whole. Unknown forces free of international commitments will get their hands on unconventional weapons, particularly chemical weapons, which, according to some reports, the Assad regime has already started to use. Without consensus among the opposition factions, Syria could sink into a bloody civil war, in which such weapons could be shot, whether intentionally or not, across borders (i.e., toward Israel). We saw cross-border arms fire toward Israel last week.

Another scenario is that without agreed-upon leadership, Syria could be ripe for the plucking by global jihadists, that is to say al-Qaida. This brings up a fundamental question. U.S. President Barack Obama has likely been presented a risk analysis about the downfall of the Assad regime. If this is the case, why does Obama want, as he stated more than once while in Jerusalem last week, to hasten the end of the Assad's rule? Intervention in the national process of any people is very dangerous and usually leads to results opposite of what were hoped for. (Bachir Gemayel, anyone?)

It is no wonder that rumors that Assad had been assassinated received much attention in Israel on Saturday. Assad's downfall, as welcome and desirable as it may be in any moral sense, will be like a violent rupture of a hornet's nest. 

An al-Qaida state to the northeast, particularly one that shares a border with Hezbollah in Lebanon, is a reality that no sane Israeli leader wants. The severity of the situation explains Israel's reconciliation with Turkey. To restore ties with our former friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was willing to swallow national pride and apologize. This was a very small price to be paid in exchange for vital cooperation.

At this point, it appears Turkey is the only country in the region that can actually do something, or at the very least keep the events in Syria in check until a solution is found. Turkey is perhaps the only foreign entity with any sort of legitimacy to intervene in Syria. A Turkish mandate in Syria, at least until the situation stabilizes and a new government is elected by the Syrian people, doesn't seem like a bad option at all.

Aharon Lapidot

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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