With whispers of Assad’s possible escape to South America, the defection of Jihad Makdissi, Syria’s former foreign ministry spokesman and the approval of NATO defence systems for the Turkish border, the previously intractable Syrian crisis, which has caused the death of over 41,000 people so far, looks set to experience some major changes.
The NATO decision came at a crucial time, amidst increasing fears that Assad could resort to using chemical and biological weapons against his own people. These unconfirmed suspicions are based on intelligence that chemical arms stocks are being moved.
The use of these weapons would almost certainly bring forth an international intervention given Obama’s unequivocal statement to Assad that; “there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.” The U.S. has emphasised that although no decision on military intervention in Syria has been made, “It wont require major movement to make action happen. The muscle is already there to be flexed… There are lots of options but it could be launched rapidly, within days.”
European states such as France support these statements, asserting that the use of chemical weapons “would demand an immediate reaction from the international community.”
Russia has dismissed these claims and has also played down the Turkish border threat. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavror responded to allegations that they had attempted to block NATO deployment of defensive missile systems to Turkey in order to protect the border from further mortar attacks, asserting that “We did not protest, but merely drew attention to the fact that one should not exaggerate the threat. Yes, there were attacks but we are convinced they were random … Basically, we are saying that the accumulation of arms always creates additional risk that these weapons will be used.”
Equally, the Turkish government has dismissed Russian fears that these weapons will be used to enforce a de facto no-fly-zone or that they will damage the already fragile stability of the region, arguing that “The measures that will be taken by Turkey will in no case be used for offensive operations. This system is only slated for the defence of Turkish territory.”
Davutoğlu told the Turkish Daily Sabah that “The protection from NATO will be three dimensional; one is the short-range Patriots, the second is the middle-range Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system and the last is the AEGIS system, which counters missiles that can reach outside the atmosphere.”
These weapons will be supplied by Germany, the U.S. and the Netherlands and would remain under the command of NATO.
According to NATO, such vast and rapid deployment of air defence capabilities is “in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey and to contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the alliance’s border.”
The Turkish government are pleased with NATOs decision, highlighting its importance “as it demonstrates and reconfirms allied solidarity and unity in practical terms.” NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen reaffirmed this commitment, stating “To the Turkish people we say: We are determined to defend you and your territory. We say to anyone who would want to attack Turkey: don’t even think about it.”
As for whether these weapons will contribute to a de-escalation of the crisis or even put enough pressure on Assad to force his exit, plans for such an eventuality are still extremely divided in the international community.
Britain is supporting Turkey’s safe passage plan which would primarily aim at removing Assad from the country rather than prosecuting him for human rights violations.
David Cameron stated last month that an asylum deal could be arranged, further arguing that “Anything, anything, to get that man out of the country and to have a safe transition in Syria.”
This plan has not received much international support on the basis that this would allow relative immunity for Assad’s crimes against humanity. U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon stated that “whoever commits gross violation of human rights must be held accountable and should be brought to justice. This is a fundamental principle.”