Friday, March 16, 2012

Airstrikes may not be the right decision

Hezbollah was formed in the early 1980s in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Of course one nation's terrorist group is another nation's resistance movement. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist group by the US, UK, Australia, Canada and of course Israel. Most Arab and Muslim nations consider Hezbollah to be a resistance movement. The group wants the destruction of the "Zionist entity" more commonly referred to as Israel.

Although based in Lebanon, Hezbollah receives much of its weapons, training and finances from Iran through Syria. I was reminded of this linkage while reading about the latest events in Syria. The Assad regime has now killed over 8,000 people with no end in sight. There are increasing calls for airstrikes by the US to support the rebels.

By understanding the relationship of Iran and Syria to Hezbollah, it makes any military actions a potential flashpoint for Israel. Any attack on Syria risks pushing forces into either Lebanon (which borders Israel), Turkey or Iran. This could ignite conflicts outside of Syria with unforeseen outcomes. Forces fleeing into Lebanon could link up with Hezbollah and Hamas to create havoc in Israel. A huge influx of refugees from Syria into Turkey could destabilize the NATO country. Refugees fleeing into Iran could lead Iran into some type of armed response to forces attacking Syria.

The US and NATO have led airstrikes with the intended result of ousting Qaddafi but also created the unintended consequence of allowing the Muslim brotherhood to ascend to power. There is no guarantee that whoever comes in behind Assad will be friendly towards the West. Some may argue that the mixed results in Libya were due to the lack of boots on the ground. The current situation in Afghanistan disproves the notion that having boots on the ground will result in a stabilized situation. In fact, recent events in Afghanistan (the kill team, Quran burnings, and rogue soldier) have empowered a return of the Taliban.

Unlike Afghanistan, military operations could make Iran or Israel nervous. Syria shares a border and political connections with Iran meaning any conflicts could spillover. Iran could take the involvement of US forces in Syria as a prelude to an attack and put their military on high alert. In turn, this heightened state of alert by Iran could cause the Israelis to strike first as their tolerance for a nuclear Iran is much lower than the US.

Russian and Chinese vetoes prevented the U.N. Security Council from passing a resolution to condemn the Assad regime on October 4, 2011—and yet again on February 4, 2012. Secretary Clinton has been unable to convince either to change their position. For Russia, the need for a port in the Mediterranean means it will be unlikely that Moscow will allow the West to intervene. For China, it risks losing access to abundant oil reserves should hostilities break out in the Middle East.

People such as Senator John McCain are calling for intervention in Syria. Watching thousands die is certainly not what human beings should die. However, we must act with our minds and not just our hearts. The short-term goal of ousting Assad will have long-term implications that no one is really discussing. The Arab League has thus far only been a paper tiger. The US and Europe need to push them to broker a long-term solution, preferably one that does not mean further use of US military forces.

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