Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Who will deal with Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda tomorrow? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Rebels inspect a T-72 tank parked in a secret location close to the village of Al-Rami, near the town of Ariha, in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on June 22, 2013. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

I heard Fareed Zakaria disagree with American Senator John McCain’s call to support the Syrian revolution against Assad’s regime. His justification is that the overall outcome will be much worse.

Speaking on CNN, he said that the solution is to stay away from the Syrian conflict because intervention means unforeseen implications, and results that will be horrific.

Zakaria’s call to just sit and watch television because non-intervention will spare the superpower the consequences of a war later, is wrong, and there are three future possibilities that should concern the man in the White House.

The first is the end of Iranian sanctions. Obama is the first American president, since the Reagan era, who punished Iran with actions, not just words. He is the only one who implemented economic sanctions instead of just threatening to implement them. The sanctions on Iran during the past two years have been more painful and effective than anything that Washington did in the past 20 years.

But Syria represents a major pillar in Iran’s defense policy. If Assad falls, Iran will lose its most important ally and become weaker. This is what more than one military and civilian leader expressed to justify going to fight in Syria. So if Washington is pursuing Iran across the world to prevent it from selling its oil, or exchanging its currency with dollars, why does it let it win in Syria, which means allowing it to impose its authority on Iraq, Syria and Lebanon? This does not make sense if Washington is really determined to pressure Tehran, whether to force it to alter its stance on its nuclear program or to weaken it regionally.

The second is the rise of Al-Qaeda. American intelligence tirelessly pursues a few dozen Al-Qaeda terrorists in Yemen and bombs them. So how can it ignore Syria when it has become the largest hotbed in the world for Al-Qaeda fighters, whose numbers are now double that of Yemen’s? After one or two years, Washington will be forced to confront the new Al-Qaeda in Syria. A media report reminded many of the arrest of a cell that recruits youth in the Moroccan city of Ceuta, under Spanish rule. Imagine the depth of recruitment activity that spreads in the Islamic world and outside it by using Syria as an excuse!

The third reason is the danger to the region beyond Syria’s borders. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are threatened because of the repercussions of the Syrian crisis. The Assad regime wants to export its crisis to its neighbors. Today, one-fifth of Jordan’s residents are Syrian refugees, and the number will double in a year’s time since the Syrian capital is only a one-hour drive from the Jordanian border. So how will the US deal with the repercussions of a war against regimes that support it?

It’s for these three reasons that the US will inevitably find itself forced to intervene. All of these reasons will materialize: Iran’s expansion in Syria, the rise of Al-Qaeda and the threat against neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

What Zakaria is saying is true. It’s true that intervening to prevent massacres may prevent the regime’s crimes and may also allow some rebels to commit crimes. But not intervening will make Washington’s influence weaker.

Since humanitarian tragedy is no longer enough to move the American public opinion to intervene, particularly since failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, then the real motive in Syria will be to prevent disasters that will affect the world’s security.

When we speak of intervention, we do not mean an intervention similar to the Iraqi and Somali models. We do not mean direct intervention by involving ground forces, but an intervention by strongly supporting rebels, with arms, logistics and intelligence.

Finally, to those Americans who doubt they will benefit from toppling Assad, only to replace him with power vacuum or terrorist groups, I say two things: The first thing is that Assad will inevitably fall no matter how long it takes. The second is that the West will then find itself with no ally in Syria when he does.

The required support does not aim to topple the regime itself, but aims to empower the the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to make it the supreme military authority, so it fights against all illegal forces when the regime falls. In other words, the FSA will play an important role like the Yemeni, Mali or Tunisian governments.

Without support today, who will fight Iranian groups, Hezbollah fighters and Al-Qaeda tomorrow? We should support the FSA and the moderate political opposition in order to establish a regime capable of bearing its national and international responsibilities.