The Arab League has approved economic sanctions against Syria after months of violent suppression of anti-government protests, marking an unprecedented and escalated step against the former Arab Member State.
With Syria on the brink of civil war, the tension and conflict within the region has exponentially intensified, as the Free Army heads its insurgents from its headquarters in Homs, using the border of Lebanon as a trade route for support and medical assistance. Fueled by demand in Syria, the price for a black market Kalashnikov has gone up to $1,200 in Lebanon, evidently illustrating the significance and external influences the conflict is now causing in the Arab world. With the bloodshed of 8 months of conflict resulting in an estimated 3,500 casualties, the resistance movement against Bashar al-Assad has only deepened. Syria’s government has maintained, almost since the start of the mass protests, that it was facing armed groups. Coincidentally, after months of peaceful demonstrators being killed in the streets, the myth has become reality.
The Free Army, responsible for the armed resistance against security forces and army unites still loyal to al-Assad, has said that its objective is to protect civilians – especially the street protesters they believe will bring down the regime. Despite widespread defections from loyalist forces, a whole unit has yet to change sides, depicting the element of brinkmanship that exists in the country. The Free Amy leadership says that they need outside help from the West to bring that about. Many are hoping for a no fly-zone, similar to those imposed by NATO on Libya, stating that such actions would be enough to decay the remaining pillars of support for the authoritarian regime.
“70% of the army are ready to defect. Whole brigades with their officers; even the Special Forces. But no battalion dares to move even 10 meters because they fear the Syria air force will attack.” – Walled al Abdullah, Lieutenant of the Free Army in Homs
Nevertheless, the cried for direct intervention by NATO or any Western power will go unanswered, as foreign powers are unwilling to risk casualties, the certain escalation of international tension and domestic resentment. Rather, the European Union and the United States have involved themselves through economic sanctions. Coupled with the newly approved sanctions by the Arab League, the sanctions have led to a travel ban against Syrian officials and politicians, a halt to all dealing with the Syria central bank and cessation of Arab-financed projects, all of which will be another tough blow to the already struggling Syrian economy.
In conjunction, the recent intensification of Arab League intervention has come after decades of irrelevance, reflecting the ossified politics of most of its members. In early November 2011, the Syrian government accepted a plan brokered by the League to halt its violent suppression of demonstrators and convene talks with the opposition. Nonetheless, the al-Assad regime launched a bloody assault to retake Homs. Since this supposed period of detente, that only serve to exacerbate the conflict, Human Rights Watch has approximated an additional 104 casualties in the Homs area alone. In response, on November 12th, the League voted to supposed Syria’s membership, targeting al-Assad’s clear breach of the agreement to stop the violent repression of demonstrators, the League further promised political and economic sanctions if al-Assad did not comply. The moved served more so a symbolic purpose, as the Syria regime has long prided itself on bring an axis of Arab politics and a proponent of Arab unity. Lastly, the approved sanction, effective immediately, have come after Syria’s refusal to admit international monitors in Syria to determine whether it was abiding by the league-brokered peace plan.
“The position of the people, and the Arab position, is that we must end this situation urgently. It has almost been a year that the Syria people have been killed.” – Hamad bin Jassem, Qatari Foreign Minister
The Arab League resolution, also calls to the United Nations Security Council to adopt similar measures. Consequently, the UNSC will remain ineffective due to the power of China and Russia. As seen in the past blog (Syria: Failure of the UNSC), the trade routes between these countries mark a profit margin that neither would relinquish willingly. Moreover, the move by Russia to have 3 of its warships enter Syria territorial waters to prevent US military interference mark the Russian intentions to ensure its interests are protected in Syria. There are over 100,000 Russia citizens in Syria and Russia has used this presence to explain the supposedly obligatory measures to protect its citizens in Syria from any sort of military aggression by the US.
Furthermore, the power keg that is Syria will be an area of large international tension and conflict as the Obama presidency has taken a concentrated focus on the issues of the Middle East, escalating sanctions against Syria and Iran, both trade partner of Russia, as well as having intervened directly in Libya. In the region there already exists the US nuclear aircraft carrier HW Bush, as well as a compliment of supporting ships, part of a carrier battle group, that includes support ships and frigates that provide unmatched fire power and force projection capabilities. It is unclear what will happen if the US decides to start bombing targets in Syria but with intensified relations between the US and Russia, it could be seen as an attack against Russian citizens living in that country.
In retrospect, the movement within and without of Syria does not mark the trend seen in Libya, in which progressive actions were taken to institute a final objective of reform. Instead, the violence and weak infrastructure that continues to be undermined by sanctions will result in anarchistic destruction, rather than reform. Moreover, the international tension that is beginning to surmount because of the geopolitical situation, the destruction could also result a shift in the balance of power in which Russia and Iran will see Syria’s demise as a result of Western interference, vindicating some sort of counter offensive of political, fiscal and military means.