The civil war in Syria has been raging for more than two years. The USA experienced and wary, does not know the victory of which side would be preferable to the USA, to the region and even to the future of Syria. That was the background for President Obama's decision – not to intervene in the fighting.
This strategic decision still left room for concern regarding the question of who will gain control over Syria's vast chemical weapon inventories in the event that Bashar Al-Assad's centralized regime has collapsed. This concern led to the delineation of the "Red Line" that warned against the employment of chemical weapons in the context of the civil war.
Bashar Al-Assad employed the chemical weapons he possesses. The situation on the battlefield compelled him to disregard the American threat. Nevertheless, Washington preferred to turn a blind eye, again and again. The shelling on the outskirts of Damascus a month ago, the 1,400 dead civilians, left no choice in the matter, and President Obama was called upon to fulfill his threat.
From the very first moment, President Obama made it clear that the objective of the US operation is to constitute a military move aimed at preventing the future employment of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. At the same time, he announced explicitly that the US does not intend to intervene in the civil war or determine the future of Syria - "The USA will not deploy troops on Syrian soil". This announcement gave rise to a major uproar – how to prevent the American attack.
I have no intention of addressing the moves, the initiatives and the numerous announcements made in recent weeks, by all parties. Yet, the never-ending preoccupation with those moves, initiatives and announcements makes it difficult to see the essence. At this point – President Obama has definitely achieved his objective. The threat of a military strike, of all things, triggered the initiation of processes and initiatives that would not have been initiated if a few dozen Tomahawk missiles were launched against targets in Syrian territory. On the one hand, even without an attack in Syria, and possibly because the attack option has been waived, there is no fear, at this point, that the Syrian regime will venture to employ chemical weapons again in the context of its war against the insurgents. Employing chemical weapons under these circumstances will give the USA a free hand to respond by a military strike, possibly even more forcefully than originally planned. In this case, the American and global public opinion will stand behind the American President and support his move.
On the other hand, the steamroller tactics employed in the last few weeks against Washington so as to prevent the intended strike led Damascus and its supporters in Russia and Iran to come up with some unusual initiatives. These initiatives, calling for supervision over and disarmament of the chemical weaponry the Syrian regime possesses, would have never been devised before the crisis. This achievement would not have been achieved if the planned military strike had been delivered.
This is merely an interim balance statement. Today, the campaign does not address the prevention of the employment of chemical weapons, but rather the transfer thereof from the hands of the Syrian regime to international supervision and possibly even to disarmament and possible destruction.
This has opened a new leaf involving a different strategic objective no one had thought of presenting before. We do not know how things will evolve, but a word of warning may be in order here: American insistence on the maximum demand could undermine the accomplishments achieved thus far.
In conclusion, we are still miles away from being content with the results.
Maj. Gen. (Res.) Shlomo Gazit served as Head of the IDF GHQ Intelligence Division immediately following the 1973 Yom-Kippur War. He took part in the peace talks with Egypt, served as President of the Ben-Gurion University and as Director General of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Today he is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).