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Dr. Josef Olmert

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Now Libya, But What About Syria?

Posted: 10/21/11 04:44 PM ET

The Libya effect is causing ripples in some of the other Middle East countries where the cry for freedom has gone on for months. Syria is a case in mind, and the message can't be clearer. The unceremonial end of Muanmmar Gaddafi gave a much-needed boost to millions of Syrians, who are fantasizing of the day when their dictator will be just a bad memory. This is going to happen, but not in a matter of weeks or even a few months.

Still, the trend is clear, and the Alawite regime is increasingly isolated and consequently desperate. The killing machine of the Fourth Division and the Presidential Guard under Maher Assad and Assaf Shawkat is working extra time, as the uprising is moving to a new stage. That of an armed confrontation between them and large parts of their former comrades in arms, mainly Sunni soldiers and officers who defect in droves and turn on their former Alawite masters.

As this is happening, the mass demonstrations continue and the geographic scope of them is also expanding. In the last few weeks the second largest city in Syria, Aleppo, which was relatively muted, is in the uprising and the reaction of the regime is typical: killing as many protestors as possible. The estimate of 3000 victims in Syria may seem to be much lower than the real number. Aleppo in the uprising is of significance because it has a large business community, composed of Sunnis as well as Christians and other minorities which until now seemed to give the regime the benefit of the doubt, believing that it could survive and restore stability. The relentless violence and its disastrous economic impact may finally turned the disc also for this element of the population. Altogether the uprising is likely to stay and intensify.

This is a battle of will between the Sunni majority and the determined Alawite elite, but one in which material resources and physical power could still prove to be the decisive factor. This is exactly where Vice President Biden's comments on the successful Libyan campaign can be very relevant regarding the predicament of the Syrian people.

Biden hailed the success in Libya, claiming that no American lives were lost. It was relatively cheap costing only $2 billion. While the VP sounded as if it was a model of action to be adopted also in other crisis spots, the case of Syria may be different than that of Libya. I, for one, do not detect any appetite in the US or among its European allies to intervene militarily in Syria, either by creating a no-fly zone, sending ground troops or attacking from the sea.

It is also the case that, unlike the Libyan rebels, their Syrian counterparts are yet to appeal to the international community and ask for military intervention. They may do it in the future, but already now they are eager to have much more support from the US and the Europeans than what actually comes their way. Let's take the financial element of Biden's statement. One shoulder Fim-92 Stinger missile costs only $38,000. The Syrian defectors organized in The Free Syria Army and other units will be happy to get as many stringers as possible. The Syrian air force, totally dominated by Alawites, has already been used against the defectors as well as civilians. The cost of even hundreds of Stingers given to the rebels will be far short of the money spent in Libya. Delivery could be along the Turkish-Syrian border. Just imagine the psychological effect of even one Syrian aircraft brought down by the rebels.

This is just one example, and there are others. Money should be promised and given to high-level Syrian officers crossing to one of the neighboring countries. And alongside this, there is much room for increased diplomatic support to the rebels and their political front, The Syrian National Council. The Obama Administration reiterated its position that the Assad regime lost its legitimacy. What, in that case, stops the administration from inviting representatives of the Council for formal talks with the Secretary of State and the President as a preliminary step before granting them formal recognition as the legitimate government of Syria?

If such an invitation will come, and it is already now long overdue, the Syrian rebels will feel the pressure of the need to patch up their internal dissent, in order to present a credible and united position to the Americans and Europeans. The West for its part will have to accept that any respectable delegation of the Syrian opposition should include also the Muslim Brotherhood.

The massacre in Syria has gone on for too long. It has to stop, and the US and its allies should do a lot more to achieve that, even if they refuse to intervene militarily. All they need to do and quickly is to make good on the statement of VP Biden, at least as a first step.