Washington: The likelihood of action that is closer to the role the West took last year in Libya seems to be growing, as more countries talk about implementing a no-fly zone and steps to address the needs of the swelling numbers of refugees in the Syrian conflict.
In France, where the right is hounding President François Hollande for “abandoning” Syrians battling the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, the government is now raising the possibility of establishing at least a partial no-fly zone. Creation of such a zone, first suggested by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during a recent visit to Turkey, would help protect civilians from government bombardment and carve out a “safe haven” from which anti-Assad forces could operate.
France and Germany are calling for more coordinated action to address the needs of what are now estimated to be more than 200,000 refugees in the conflict. And British Prime Minister David Cameron is echoing President Obama, who earlier this week warned Assad that any use or even movement of the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons would be met by US military intervention.
Up to now Western powers, including the United States, have insisted that Syria is different from Libya, that the risks of a devastating regional war set off by outside intervention are much greater, and that the need is to end Syria’s violence, not add to it. But with violence reaching horrendous new proportions, and with the fighting sending thousands of additional refuges every week into Turkey, Jordan, and an increasingly tense Lebanon, pressure to do something different is mounting.
On Thursday French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a televised interview that it might be time to establish a no-fly zone over the area between the besieged northern city of Aleppo and the Turkish border.
“The idea of a no-fly zone over a particular part of Syria, as suggested by Hillary Clinton, should be examined,” he said.
Russia and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions on Syria, most recently last month, prompting Western powers to say they would have to turn to other institutions and countries to address the Syrian conflict.
Still, the complications of establishing and maintaining a no-fly zone in Syria are prompting caution on the part of some US officials. This week Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said that while such a step is under study, it is “not on the front burner.”
Military experts say setting up even a partial no-fly zone would require sustained and risky intervention, and it would inevitably result in casualties that the Al Assad regime and its supporters would trumpet to Muslim countries as more Western attacks on Muslims.
Others point to how NATO’s aerial campaign in Libya extended well beyond what NATO leaders originally predicted would be necessary. Another concern is whether Western intervention would prompt Assad to unleash his chemical weapons, as he has threatened.
But with reports suggesting hundreds of civilians are dying every day in the violence, and with Syrian refugees pouring over borders and adding to the region’s already worrisome instability, pressure to take action is likely to continue climbing.