Regarding punishing the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and actually seeking regime change, there is a major difference associated with the language used in the media and with the legal measures required for each distinct goal.
The steps to be taken by the international community against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad will be no more than a limited operation. The aim is to make the regime reconsider its stance and refrain from using gases and chemicals that are internationally prohibited.
It is true that the attack will be a limited form of punishment—limited to the point that Syrian President Assad won’t even have to leave his home; however, the repercussions and implications of such an attack are significant.
This is the first international military attack against Assad after 27 months of fighting. The most important of its implications is Moscow’s shifting stance. Assad’s international ally made unprecedented signs of approving the attack, although it did not abandon his diplomatic rhetoric urging restraint. Russia’s current stance resembles its stance before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Back then, Russia objected to the invasion but it refrained from joining the fight, announcing it would not militarily interfere to protect Saddam Hussein. The same applies to the case of Syria. This is an important field development because Russia has in the past two years continued to threaten that it will not remain idle if its Syrian ally is attacked.
If the analysis of the Russian stance is correct, then we are facing an important shift in the Syrian war in the wake of the recent Saudi approach towards the Russians. As a result, we notice that the Russians are calmly withdrawing from Syria. First they began by decreasing the number of their military experts. Secondly, the Russians are heading towards abandoning Syria as a naval base for their battleships in the Middle East. Such a move would entail Assad losing one of his most important international allies. Iran and Hezbollah would remain steadfast supporters, but what can these two really do?
An often repeated statement of theirs is a threat to burn the region, Iraq’s Saddam and Libya’s Qaddafi previously made these threats, which vanished with their departure from power. Iran is smarter than both, as it doesn’t seek to involve itself. It forcefully fought against Iraq in the 1980s; after that, it did not fight in any big military operation at all for three decades. It fought neither in the Gulf, which is important to world oil supply, nor in Israel. It always left the task to its smaller allies, Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran knows that the price of confrontation is very high. A one-month war may destroy the military facilities it built over a period of 30 years.
Hezbollah too will not launch its missiles on northern Israel unless it is forced to do so. First of all, Hezbollah realizes that such a move will not prevent the Western attack against Assad. Second of all, Hezbollah’s arms, which pain the Lebanese, represent nothing more than cat-like scratches on the arm of Israel—that is, they are not too harmful. Hezbollah is also capable of carrying out terrorist operations against Arab and foreign interests. These too will not stop the collapse of the regime in Damascus. They will instead increase the world’s belief in the importance of besieging Hezbollah and punishing it later.
We will not witness a repeat of the American toppling of Saddam, which took a matter of days. What is expected is that any foreign intervention in Syria will be geared towards specified targets. These attacks won’t topple Assad’s regime but will contribute to its weakening, laying the groundwork for its collapse at a later date. Assad, despite the unprecedented support he received from Iran, Russia, Iraq and Hezbollah, failed to win the war.
We will see a sick, exhausted man confronted with a superior Western attack. If the opposition and its army had been united, then perhaps there would have been no need for international military sanctions. Assad is exhausted and the Iranian and Russian support did not help him regain any of the power or the lands he has lost.
In addition to the regime’s weakness, it has become further exposed as a result of the withdrawal of Russian support and Iran’s announcement that it will abstain from militarily defending Syria. Let’s remember that this is the first Western military move against Assad. We see the threat’s repercussions embodied in the Syrian regime’s apparent fear and the Free Syrian Army’s preparation to expand its operations towards the capital. All these signs indicate that Assad’s fall will occur in the upcoming months. Fear and desperation may speed up the collapse of his regime well before that.