A Note on the Escalation of the Syrian Crisis

It has been reported that Israel conducted two airstrikes in Syria in the last few days. It is also said that these airstrikes targeted military facilities and equipment that was destined for Hezbollah. After a Syrian official called Israel’s attack “a declaration of war”, many speak of a turning point in the Syrian crisis and a war between Syria and Israel.

Things are both simple and complicated at the same time. This is indeed a turning point in the crisis not so much because of what Syrian officials have stated but because Israel’s actions demonstrated that the security risk stemming from Syria just reached the point where regional powers cannot remain unresponsive; it is within this framework that we should also evaluate Turkish Prime Minister’s remarks that Assad will pay for the deaths of thousands in Syria. This in turn means that as long as the Syrian regime escalates the violence and its cooperation with militant groups, such as Hezbollah, we will witness an increase in such actions/attacks.

But can Syria really go to war with Israel – or any other country for that matter? It could try but that would by no means be a smart decision. This brings us to a vicious cycle: Israel strikes military facilities in Syria thus limiting the regime’s military capabilities as well as the supplies of regime-friendly groups operating in Syria. On the other hand Syria makes provocative statements about retaliation when in fact it is so busy dealing with the rebels domestically that it would be catastrophic to try to handle two wars at the same time. This again leaves Syria with practically no deterrent capability, making it vulnerable to more airstrikes or other kinds of external attack.

Whether or not these last developments will lead to a new war remains to be seen. What we do know is that if Syria retaliates two things may happen: a) the Syrian regime will find itself in an unprecedentedly difficult position which will eventually lead to its end; and b) the West will have one more reason/pre-text to intervene, either directly or through regional proxies. Should the latter happen, the intervening powers should be well informed about what they are dealing with in Syria as well as the intensions of countries like Iran and Russia. In any case, this would not be a walk in the park and might bear significant costs for the whole region.

Published on Strategy International, May 6, 2013

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