If talk of US strikes on Syria become real, the situation in the Middle East is likely to become more turbulent. A number of countries have stakes in Syria, which is grappling with a civil war that has claimed close to 100,000 lives over two years. Russia, Iran and China have continuously stood beside the regime of president Bashar Al Assad, who keeps referring to the rebels as terrorists. Assad has defied the toughest opposition to his rule, which has emrged as an uprising that has stoked sectarian tensions. The opposition has often been accused of harbouring Al Qaeda-linked groups. When Washington and its allies launch an attack on Syria, they would have to factor in all such possibilities. The prospects of US-led strikes come after the protracted insurgency in Syria took several turns. There were concerted efforts to pressure Assad into talks or submission, but he proved to be the most resilient among the Arab Spring leaders. It was first the Arab League that tried to reason with him and his regime. However, with two permanent members of the UN Security Council— Russia and China—supporting him, Assad stood defiant. Moreover, Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah were steadfast in their support. Hezbollah even has its cadres in the country fighting alongside Assad’s troops and government militia.
The purported chemical attack on the suburbs of the capital Damascus proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. Leading to hundreds of deaths, the attack laid the pitch for western intervention in the conflict. Though the UN team is still probing the source of the attack and who launched it, the momentum that planned western intervention has suddenly gathered implies implicating Assad in the attack. So, does this mean that the US has unilaterally concluded even before the probe is complete that it was the Syrian government that killed its own people with weapons of mass destruction?
Washington would most likely launch targeted missile attacks in Syria rather than risk a full-scale confrontation by sending fighter jets into Syrian air space. But missiles or not, the risk of collateral damage remains high. Any attack should take into account the civilian population around the targeted zones and desist from any strike that has the remotest chance of hurting innocent Syrians, who have already been reeling from continuous fighting. But how would a US strike affect the UN probe? The UN investigation was delayed yesterday and will reopen today. It is not clear if the UN inspectors would be allowed to carry their work unhindered once the strikes begin.
Western powers have started bracing for the attack and so must have the Assad regime. But if the strikes begin before the UN chemical probe is complete, the world may never know who was behind the blood of hundreds of civilians•