After nine months Syria’s ongoing conflict between the pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces has reached a stall-mate. No side seems to be willing to compromise; the revolutionaries remain firm in their principles and goal to overthrow Assad, despite their casualties which they suffer in the hands of the Syrian army. Assad, on his part, remains adamant in his policy, considering the demonstrators as a threat to his rule which serves the stability and existence of his country.
The ongoing conflict leads also to the gradual destabilization of Syria and the region. Thus neighboring countries have been quite concerned about the Syrian crisis. Expectedly enough those regional governments that have pursued an anti-Assad policy for years have sided with the revolutionaries. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have repeatedly asked Assad to proceed to the liberalization of his political system, even to step down immediately. By contrast Assad’s foreign allies, such as Iran and Lebanon’s government and Hezbollah have openly supported Assad, urging him to proceed to reforms but under his rule. On its part Baghdad has kept a low profile, adopting a wait and see policy. Tel Aviv, Assad’s lethal enemy, sees the Syrian chaos with cautious satisfaction, wishing to see Assad’s downfall but is concerned about the eruption of a civil war. In any case Israel is the only regional country which has already benefited from Assad’s inability to promote his anti-Israel policy.
Day by day the crisis in Syria gets worse, throwing the whole country into chaos. The prospects of an all out civil war are growing. Indeed judging from the modus operandi of the revolutionaries and the government, both sides are ready to either achieve their political goals or throw Syria into a civil war. If such a scenario unfolds, it is interesting to examine the operational plan of the revolutionaries.
So far the revolt has spread in various cities of the country. Yet the strongholds of the revolutionaries have been the restive cities of Homs, Hama and Deraa. Homs and Hama are of paramount importance due to their strategic position both for the sea access of Damascus and the north-south national highway network. In case they fall into revolutionary hands, then Damascus could be cut off from the northern part of the country. The first goal of the revolutionaries is to control these two cities and then spread their control to the north in order to isolate Damascus from its sea access to the ports of Latakia, Tartus, Jableh and Baniyas. Such a development could only be achieved with the support of the West who could adopt partially the modus operandi in Libya. In this respect the West could impose a sea blockade on Syrian ports, preventing Damascus from receiving any provisions in basic types of foodstuffs, medical products and weaponry. A sea-blockade combined with a non-fly zone operated by a multinational force and a buffer zone in the north observed by Ankara would boost the efforts of the revolutionaries to control the north of the country. In such a case Aleppo would become the operational centre of the revolutionaries in the north. In this process there are two critical issues: first, what would happen in the Euphrates region with regard to the Kurds in the north and the eastern borders of Syria with Iraq. Second, in case Assad receives provisions through Lebanon, would Israel be willing to initiate a conflict with Hizbullah? In both cases Assad would rely heavily on his allies in case he came under sea and air blockade.
From the above analysis it is evident that if a civil war erupts in Syria, it will be enduring, multidimensional and large in scale. The key factor in this process is the loyalty of the Syrian army to President Assad. So far the Syrian army has been loyal to Damascus but in recent days various incidents of desertion have displayed a change of mind in some of the regiments of the Syrian army. If so, the prospect of a dichotomized Syria for a short or long period, or even permanently, could not be disregarded. What is certain in the Syrian crisis is that, if the country falls into a civil war, then it will affect the stability of the whole region, from the Mediterranean shores to the Persian Gulf and the Qandil Mountains to the Gulf of Aqaba.