Syria: should the West intervene?

The Syrian uprising is now in its 11th month. What are the options to bring about an end to the bloodshed? Emily Hohler reports.

The Arabs are paying a high price for their spring', says Seumas Milne in The Guardian. After the "carnage" in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, Syria's 11-month-old uprising is growing ever bloodier with hundreds killed in the past few days after heavy shelling in the city of Homs.

No leader can kill 6,000 of his people in under a year and expect to stay in power, says Alex Spillius in The Daily Telegraph, but no one can "quite agree" on how to hasten the end of President Bashar al-Assad.

Much was riding on the UN Security Council resolution backed by Western nations and the Arab League, condemning Assad's regime, requiring his army's withdrawal and backing an Arab League plan for him to be replaced but it was vetoed by Russia and China.

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Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, did extract a promise from Assad that he would cooperate with any plan that stabilised Syria, says the Jerusalem Post. But he made clear that this included only an Arab League proposal calling for dialogue, the release of prisoners and the withdrawal of the army from areas of protest.

Ignoring Syria isn't an option, says Charles Krauthammer in Canada's National Post. Human rights is "reason enough" to bring down Assad, but Syria is "geopolitically crucial" too because it is the only Arab state openly allied with non-Arab Iran. Quite, says Milne. Indeed, "Western intervention in Syria can only be understood as a part of a proxy war against Iran, which disastrously threatens to become a direct one".

So what can be done? The European Union will probably pass a 12th round of sanctions, but they are already so stringent that there are few arrows "left in the quiver", says Spillius.

Authorising the use of Nato air power, as in Libya, is seen as "too difficult and too dangerous". Syria's army is too strong and the regime too close to Iran for the West to send in troops. Moreover, the Syrian opposition "an alphabet soup of fragmented factions" is "scattered and easily overpowered".

"Distasteful" though it may seem, the best and most realistic option to "steadily defuse the conflict rather than watch it explode in everyone's face" is for Washington to deal with Assad, says Nicholas Noe in the International Herald Tribune.

The coalition facing Assad would have to "publicly lay out a grand bargain that doesn't demand he step down immediately". As added incentives, insurgents should be called on to stop fighting and sanctions relaxed.

Finally, any deal would have to include a "serious US-led effort" to broker the return to Syria of the Golan Heights, which Israel has controlled since 1967.

In return the army should withdraw, political prisoners be released, and the Arab League and UN should lay the groundwork for writing a new constitution and holding multi-party elections later this year and presidential elections in 2013.

If Assad refuses, such an unreasonable move might "offer the best hope yet of splitting his government and controlling the resulting collapse". Either way, "negotiations now, rather than war later, could lead to a far better outcome".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.