THE SYRIAN CONFLICT 52
The Syrian conflict is a problem endured by Syrians because of itsimpact on the economic, political, and social stability in thecountry. The outcome of the Syrian conflict extends beyond Syriabecause it also threatens the safety and security of other nations.The threat does not only face the neighboring countries in the MiddleEast but also other countries including the United States. In the US,the Syrian conflict is one of the government’s major concernsbecause it threatens the American homeland security for variousreasons.
First, Syria successfully established a biological and chemicalwarfare program and acquired sophisticated weapons over the years.Through this program, Syria’s SSRC has developed integratedtechnologies to expand biological and chemical weapons’ damage andmake them untraceable. The tensions between U.S and Syria because ofthe civil war could force the latter to launch biological or chemicalweapon attacks in the US. Secondly, radical Islamist groups saw theconflict between the Assad regime and the opposition in Syria as anopportunity to gain ground in the country as terrorists. Such RadicalIslamists are anti-Western and anti-American and they aim toestablish an Islamist nation after the fall of Assad. If radicalIslamists successfully takes over Syria, their forces would grow innumber.
Thirdly, Syria has strong allies in Russia and Lebanon, and also haslinks to terrorist groups like the Hamas and the Hezbollah. Thismakes it difficult for the opposition to topple Assad’s governmentto make way for democracy. Fourth, some Americans flew to Syria tojoin the opposition in rebellion against Assad’s government. Someof them, however, were recruited by the Radical Islamist groups suchas the al-Qaeda. Overall, as long as Assad is in power there will becivil war as militants seek to overthrow him. Consequently, ifradical Islamists take over the Syrian government after Assad stepsdown, threats to American homeland security will be threatened by thelikelihood of terrorist attacks against the U.S from anti-Westerngroups Syria. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a resolution tothe Syrian conflict and consequential political stability of thecountry. U.S and the international community can resolve the conflictthrough political negotiations or increased military support to theopposition.
Table of Contents
Executive Summary 2
I. Introduction 5
II. Nature and History of the Syrian Conflict 7
A. Brief History of Syria 8
B. Beginnings: 14
III. : Impact and Threat to U.S Homeland Security 17
A. Syria’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) 17
B. The Syrian Conflict and Terrorism 23
1. Radical Islamists Gaining Ground in Syria 25
2. Terrorist Groups: Syria’s Allies 30
C. American Supporters of the Syrian Conflict 32
IV.Solutions and Recommendations 33
A. The Role of the Moderate Opposition 34
B. Political Negotiations 37
V. Strengths and Challenges of Proposed Solutions 40
VI. Conclusion 44
poses a threat to the U.S homeland security dueto various reasons. A review of the West and the Middle East’s pastwill reveal a bitter history that began during the colonial period.During the colonial period, Western imperialism that was launchedtowards the countries in the Middle East led to extreme poverty,injustice, and loss of people’s freedom to make decisions for theirown nation (Cooper & Yue, 2008 Koebner, 1964). Imperialism,influenced by radicalism, led to the development and spreadanti-Western and anti-American views in most of the Middle Eastnations (Taji-Farouki, 2004).
In addition, the decision of the U.S to support Israel in theIsraeli-Palestine conflict reinforced the America hatred among manyMuslims countries. Anti-Western and anti-American sentiments havefueled radical Islamist terrorist activities for the past threedecades (Faath, 2006 Sutton & Vertigans, 2005 Taki-Farouki,2004). These sentiments are also the reason why the U.S is in aprecarious position with the looming threat of the Syrian conflict onAmerican homeland security.
Over the years, Syria has developed a sophisticated chemical warfareprogram. The Syrian Scientific Research Center’s (SSRC) efforts ledto the adoption of technologies that expanded the scope of damage ofthe biological and chemical weapons (Bergman, 2013). In addition,these weapons were made untraceable (Bergman, 2013 Inbar &Zilberfarb, 2013). The use of chemical attacks was launched duringthe civil war and killed thousands of civilians and rebels. Thisillustrates the extent that the Syrian government can go to keep itsenemies at bay and keep Assad in power.
In addition, Assad has managed to remain in power because of thesupport of Syria’s allies, which include Russia, North Korea, andChina, and terrorist groups such as the Hamas and the Hezbollah(Barnhart, 2007 Gale, Sicherman, & Radu, 2011). On the contrary,U.S has supported the efforts of the moderate opposition – Syrianactivists that include some members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)that call for Syria’s transition to a democratic government. Thishas created tension between Syria and the US.
The resolution of the Syrian conflict can significantly diminish thethreat to U.S homeland security. The international community, throughthe United Nation’s (UN) efforts, has over time organizednegotiations and talks between representatives of the opposition andthe Syrian government. However, until now, the conflict stillpersists between the two groups. Syria’s moderate opposition isinstrumental in ending the conflict by toppling the Assad regime.However, their initiatives would require military assistance fromforeign nations including the US.
Despite their efforts, the opposition has failed to successfullyoverthrow the Assad regime due to internal conflicts. The moderateopposition is divided between Syrian activists that call for theestablishment of a democratic government and radical Islamists thataim to take over the government to establish an Islamist nation ruledunder the Islamic Law. Even though they share the goal oftransitioning the government, the moderate opposition and radicalIslamists engage in infighting that weakens their capacity toaccomplish this shared goal.
The presence of radical Islamist groups in Syria is also a threat toU.S homeland security. Radical Islamist groups constitute Islamjihadists and extremists. In recent years, the al-Qaeda has managedto establish command in Syria with the objective of bringing down theAssad regime so they can establish a nation that can be controlledunder the Sharia Law. Radical Islamists are threats to homelandsecurity because they have always aimed for the development of anIslamist regime where an alliance among Muslim countries in theMiddle East will follow and abide by Islamic law (Perry & Negrin,2008 Tan, 2007).
The danger in allowing radical Islamists to gain power and influence,however, is their propensity to commit terrorist acts to voicepolitical stance or views. Radical Islamists have targeted the U.Sseverally because they are known to be anti-American terrorists. Forinstance, the al-Qaeda terrorist group claimed responsibility forbombing of the Americans in several occasions such as the World TradeCenter on September 11, 2001 (Brewer, 2005).
The foregoing issues illustrate the growing importance of resolvingthe Syrian conflict not only for the sake of civilians in Syria butalso for the world. Particularly, the resolution would be safe forAmericans who might become the victims of terrorism if radicalIslamists and Syrian allies prevail. The UN and the U.S have exploreddifferent solutions in recent years to end the conflict. Among thesealternatives includes political mechanisms through negotiationsbetween the moderate opposition and the Syrian government. The Syrianconflict will not be resolved quickly if we are to base assumptionsand predictions of events in the last few years. Based on theforegoing discussion, the Syrian conflict is very complex and thesecomplexities serve as barriers to its resolution.
The following discussion focuses on the situations that manifest dueto the Syrian conflict that consequently threatens U.S homelandsecurity. Details about the aforementioned issues that contribute tothis threat will be discussed thoroughly, including the impact ofthese issues or situations on U.S homeland security. Solutions andrecommendations will also be proposed alongside the strengths,advantages, and challenges of implementing them.
Nature and History of the Syrian Conflict
The impact of the Syrian conflict on U.S homeland security can betraced to the history of Syria and US-Syrian relations. Tracing thehistory of Syria, which includes its relationship with the US, andthe history of the Syrian conflict is equally important in discussinghomeland security. This is because the past reveals events thatexplain the animosity between U.S and Syria. The following discussiontraces this history and in the process, establishes the context ofthe discussion – the impact of the Syrian conflict on U.S homelandsecurity.
Brief History of Syria
The Syrian conflict gained its ground during the past decade whenhostilities among opposing factions in the country intensified andSyria’s ties with other countries deteriorated due to the nations’disagreeable practices. Nevertheless, if to understand the Syrianconflict in its entirety, and consequently understand its impact onhomeland security in the US, it is highly important to trace thecountry’s history. This is important because Syria’s tumultuouspast has set the stage for its chaotic present and hostile relationswith the U.S.
During the early 1990’s, Syria went under colonial rule when theformer ruler of Iraq Faisal bin Hussein, also known as Faisal I orEmir Faisal, seized Damascus and Aleppo with the assistance of theBritish forces led by Thomas Edward Lawrence. This was part of theArab Revolt with the goal of toppling the Ottoman Empire’s hold onArab states, including Syria (Commins, 2012 Steiner, 2005). Lawrencesupported the idea of independence among the Arab nations from theTurks, which influenced Britain’s decision to support the revolt.The plan was for the forces to seize states and for an Arab figure tolead these nations.
Consequently, Syria held elections to determine its leader throughthe assembly of the Syrian National Congress. After the elections,Emir Faisal was declared as the nation’s leader in 1920. EmirFaisal’s leadership, however, was short lived when members of theAllied states ceded control of Syria and Lebanon to France during theSan Remo conference held in Italy. Emir Faisal refused to surrendercontrol of these states until the French Army overrun Faisal’sregime during the Battle of Maysalun and Freedboth Syria and Lebanon,consequently making both states part of the League of Nations. Thiswas an international body formed and tasked with the responsibilityof concluding the effects of the World War I. Therefore, the Leaguesought to maintain peace among nations by preventing conflict throughdemilitarization in the conflicting nation (Herb & Kaplan, 2008Schuman, 2008).
Under the French mandate, Syria was divided into three independentstates – the State of Aleppo in the North, the State of Damascus,and the Jabal al-Druze State in the South (Neep, 2012). France’sbasis for the division of states was denominational in nature, butits intention was to divide Syria into smaller states to preventanother rebellion from Arab nationalists. Nevertheless, Arabnationalists refused to back down, which fueled the series ofuprisings during the1920s against the French rule and the impetus fora constituent assembly, which France eventually rejected. In 1936,France and Syria bolstered the latter’s independence with a treaty,but with the condition that the former maintains its militarypresence in the country and gains from the local economy. Hashimal-Attasi became the first president of Syria after its independence(Moubayed, 2000 Talhami, 2001).
The French defeat during World War II transformed the nation intoNazi Germany’s puppet state. Under this regime, France was dubbedas the Vichy state, which controlled all French territories includingSyria and Lebanon. British and Free French forces, however, seizedSyria and Lebanon again to free the nation from Vichy control in 1941(DeRouen & Heo, 2005). By 1944, Arab nationalists began theircampaign to reclaim Syria from the Control of the League of Nations.After continuing pressure from nationalists through a series ofprotests, French forces eventually left Syria in 1946.
To Syria free from foreign control, the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Partycame into power, helmed primarily by Salah al-Din al-Bitar and MichelAflaq, and with the support of Zaki al-Arsuzi’s followers.Therefore, Ba’ath Party’s objective was to unite the states –Aleppo, Damascus, Druze, and Alawite – into one Arab regionreflected in the concept of pan-Arabism. Moreover, the Ba’ath Partysupported the idea of restoration within Arab states throughmodernization (George, 2003). Although the founders of the Ba’athParty were a Muslim, a Christian, and a Shiite Muslim respectively,the Ba’ath ideology were significantly influenced by Islam and inpart by socialism. Arab socialism, not only valued unity, but alsofought against imperialism and social inequality through theremonstration of the ruling class. Despite the prominence of theBa’ath Party, its rule was again met with resistance.
In 1948, Syria supported Palestine and other Arab nations that foughtagainst Israel in the Arab-Israeli War (Schumann, 2008). Arabnations, including the Palestinian and Syrian forces allied togetherto protest the United Nation’s decision to divide Palestine intotwo – half of Palestine will become an Arab state, while the otherwill be an Israeli state – under the organization’s PartitionPlan. The conflict between the Arab and Jews began years beforeduring the early 1900s due to widespread dissatisfaction over Britishpolicies governing their territories. Since then, subsequent foreignpolicies have been advantageous for Israel, which Arabs found to beunjust.
The conflict intensified after the implementation of the UN’sPartition Plan, which developed into a civil war. Syria, Egypt, andJordan attacked Jewish settlements with the help of Iraqi andPalestinian military forces (Cordesman, 2006 Deeb, 2004). After aten-day combat, the Arab side lost and Palestine was divided intotwo. Conflict between the Arabs and the Jews never ceased (Schumann,2008). Although there were periods of truce, there were also periodsof conflict between Israel and various Arab nations.
As previously noted, the Ba’ath party became prominent in Syria.Nevertheless, all parties, including the Ba’ath were eventuallydissolved after a series of military coups led by Adib al-Shishakhlithat toppled the ruling Ba’ath Party in 1952. After two years,other members of the military also lead the coup againstAl-Shishakli, which led to the re-establishment of a civiliangovernment and the appointment of Shukri al-Quwatli as the presidentof Syria (Ginat, 2010 Moubayed, 2013). Under Quwatli’s leadership,Syria sought to establish ties with Egypt. Consequently, Syria andEgypt joined in 1958 and established the United Arab Republic (UAR).Syria’s move was in part a ploy to prevent a communist takeover.
The merger allowed, then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser torule Syria and to work towards the establishment of pan-Arab. As thepresident, Nasser ordered the dissolution of all parties in Syria,including the Ba’ath party. Naturally, these parties refused to bedissolved and discontent continued under Nasser’s rule. In 1961,another coup led to the closure of the UAR. The Baath leadership onceagain reclaimed the government with Amin al-Hafez appointed aspresident of Syria (Lea, 2001 South & Jermyn, 2005).
Although the Ba’ath Party dominated the Syrian government, internalconflict led to a major shift in Syria’s political landscape. Syriasigned an agreement with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics(USSR) that established the nation’s communist influence (Kort,2007). Nevertheless, conflicting parties in Syria opposed this moveand led to infighting. Other parties wanted to overthrow the Ba’athParty and take over, while some believed that the Syrian governmentmust adopt socialism so the state can prosper. In the midst ofinternal conflict in Syria, the nation alongside other Arab statesalso had to deal with their conflict with Israel. Eventually, amilitary coup successfully toppled the ruling party and Hafezal-Assad came to power during the 1970s (Blair, 2013 Kort, 2007).
Under Assad, different parties and prominent organizations had seatsin the government under a united party called the ProvisionalRegional Command of Assad’s Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party (Blair,2013). After the organization’s formation, the council convened anelection. Assad won and became the Regional Commander for aseven-year term. Under the Assad’s rule, Syria became a socialistIslam state. Assad also divided Syria into 14 local councils. Syriawas also involved in a number of conflicts, including the Yom KippurWar, where Syria and Egypt attacked Israel. Syria targeted the GolanHeights in an effort to reclaim the land, but both Syria and Egyptfailed.
Three years after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Syria also intervenedin the Lebanese Civil War with the objective of ensuring that Assad’sallies would remain in power in Lebanon. The civil war and Syria’sintervention led to Assad’s occupation of Lebanon in 1976. Syriamaintained its influence over the economy and politics in Lebanon(Tucker & Roberts, 2008). Syria withdrew its military presencefrom Lebanon in April 2005 and control over the region, after theassassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In theIraq-Iran War in 1980, Syria sided with Iran, which then sparked thealliance between the two nations. Syria also supported U.S in itseffort to fight Iraqi forces that invaded Kuwait in 1990 (Russell,2012 Tucker & Roberts, 2008).
During the Islamic Revolution, Syria backed Iran and formed ties withEgypt and the U.S against Iraq. Internal conflict in Syria alsocontinued due to widespread protests from the Sunni Muslims in thecountry. Assad responded to the protests in Syria’s key cities bystrictly influencing laws that complied with the teachings of Islam(Freedman, 2002). Assad continued to influence the events in Syriauntil his death in 2000. Consequently, Bashar Assad succeeded hisfather as president of Syria in 2000.
Around this time, communities in Syria had grown restless due to thecontinuity of the Assad regime, and Syrian activists’ failure topush for reforms in the government (Leverett, 2005). Activists wantedto raise awareness about the evils of the Assad regime succeeded byBashar Assad and held private forums to talk and debate about variouseconomic, social, and political issues. Syrian activists agreed thatSyria would prosper and the people would have better chances ofimproving their quality of life if the government transition to ademocratic state. Protests around the country intensified, but Assadremained unfaltering in pushing for the dominant socialist party’sinitiatives and interests. Assad also used force and many activistswere jailed for leading protests and urging people in Syria to jointhe demonstration (George, 20013 Ziadeh, 2011).
By 2002, conflict between U.S and Syria was reawakened when formerPresident Bush named the country as part of the ‘axis of evil’ onaccount of the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by Syria,including chemical weapons (Leverett, 2005 Rabil, 2006 Segell,2005). U.S also criticized Syria for its ties with known terroristgroups, including the Hamas, the Hezbollah, and the Islamic Jihad inPalestine. Reports also surfaced about Syria’s acquisitions ofWeapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
When the Lebanon Prime Minister Hariri died in 2005, U.S brought tolight Assad’s involvement in Hariri’s assassination (Bergman,2013 Cebeci, 2011). This prompted the international community’sinvolvement, which consequently pressured the Syrian government towithdraw its forces in Lebanon. Syria’s compliance could have beenthe beginning of peace talks and negotiations. In 2006, Syria agreedto a truce with Iraq and later on, the Assad government chose toparticipate in negotiations with the European Union (EU).Nevertheless, Syria’s ongoing conflict with Israel continued andescalated the crisis. Consequently, Israel attacked a nuclear site inSyria in 2007. Israel justified its attack by pointing out that thenuclear site shows evidence of Syria’s relations with North Korea(Jeffries, 2009).
Syria’s involvement in a nuclear development program, with NorthKorea intensified the scrutiny of the Syrian government that hadcontinued for years. Aside from this, unrest in Syria grew due to thepublic’s clamor for the release of political prisoners. Syrianactivists re-established and mobilized their organizations tocontinue demonstrations. Government supporters and anti-regimeprotesters rally endlessly that ended with violence in the streets.The Syrian Civil War in 2011 is the ongoing conflict between Assad’sgovernment backed by its supporters and the moderate opposition thatconstitutes Syrian activists backed by other groups calling for Assadto step down (Habeeb, 2012).
Many theories materialized about the cause of the Civil War in Syriain 2011. Some sources say that the arrest of some children thatpainted anti-government graffiti enraged the people and pushed themto protest against the government. Other sources say that Syriasuccumbed to the domino effect brought about by earlier protests inneighboring countries. A major reason, however, is the inadequacy ofeconomic and political reform over the decades of leadership of theAssad family. The first major protests in Syria started after theArab Spring was in March 2011. Syrians organized protestsimultaneously in different cities to force the Assad government toresign. The Day of Dignity was held in Damascus while the Day of Ragewas held in Daraa. The former sought to urge the Syrian government torelease political prisoners. The protest in Daraa eventually turnedviolent when the Syrian military opened fire and killed many Syrianprotesters.
Protests grew and continued until May, but alongside these events,military presence also grew in key cities in Syria. Similarly, thenumber of casualties also increased due to hostile responses from theSyrian military. In a protest staged in Deraa, Syrian military forcesopen fired on protesters. Reports surfaced that open fire onprotesters was Assad’s orders and that military forces that refusedto do so would be executed. Although Assad denied the reports thatcame out, the inhumane treatment of civilians in Syria drewcriticisms from other nations, including the U.S and internationalorganizations like the UN. Despite this, Assad continued to harassprotesters by sending army tanks to subdue them and capture prominentactivists (Al Jazeera, 2012 BBC News, 2014 The Guardian, 2014Jurist, 2013).
On July 2011, some Syrian activists and members of the oppositionfled to Turkey, where they formed the Syrian National Council. TheCouncil aims to establish a democratic government in Syria. In thesame month, military defectors formed their own group – the FreeSyrian Army (FSA). The FSA supported rebel groups, which was composedof revolutionaries and people from various tribes that opposed theAssad’s government. By August 2011, U.S president Barack Obamaadmonished Assad and called for him to step down from power. Obamaalso ordered restrictions on access to Syrian assets under Americanjurisdiction. Other institutions also criticized Assad’s responseto the continuing protests. The Arab League, for instance, terminatesSyria’s membership and imposed sanctions on Assad’s government(Al Jazeera, 2012 BBC News, 2014 The Guardian, 2014 Jurist, 2013).
Syria has agreed to engage with the Arab League to discusspossibilities and solutions to end the conflict. Part of thenegotiations involved the entry of Arab observers to watch andinspect events and situations in Syria. However, Arab observerswithdrew due to escalating violence in Syria. Anti-governmentactivists claimed that Assad deliberately staged bombings around thecity in order to stall talks and negotiations with internationalorganizations. While the Syrian army continued to use force tocontain protesters and some groups of the opposition fought back witharms, bombings have continued in the city since late 2011 and early2012. By February 2012, the U.S Embassy in Damascus shut down due tothreats to security.
The Syrian army dominated because of their use of heavy weaponrywhich overwhelmed the opposition, including the FSA, due to thelatter’s lack of funding and resources to continue fighting theSyrian army. Assad turned a blind eye to the ceaseless murder ofthousands of rebels in various key cities and justified the Syrianarmy’s response by stating that the rebel groups resort toterrorism in order to fight the government. In mid-April of 2012, theUN negotiated a ceasefire between warring groups in Syria, but thewar still continued (Al Jazeera, 2012 BBC News, 2014 The Guardian,2014 Jurist, 2013).
In 2012, the UN Action Group in Syria proposed a six-point aimed atending the conflict in Syria, but foreign nations have repeatedlyfailed to do so. In addition, the Syrian government has also refusedto comply. In addition, the Syrian National Council joined with otheractivist groups to form the Syrian National Coalition. Many nations,including the U.S dubbed the Coalition as the Syrian people’srepresentative. Hence, members of the Coalition attended talks andnegotiations where representatives of the Assad government were alsoinvited.
Despite efforts from both parties to reach an agreement and pressurefrom the international community for Assad to step down, their goalsand objectives did not materialize. In August 2013, chemical weaponswere launched and killed many civilians and rebels in a district inDamascus. U.S and French intelligence teams claimed that Assadordered the attack, but Syria’s allies were quick to defend thenation. At the present time, foreign nations are still trying to lookfor solutions to end the conflict through the Geneva talks for Syriawhile U.S and Russia find ways to destroy Syria’s chemical weaponstockpile. The Syrian conflict continues while thousands of Syriancivilians remain homeless and jobless and violence continues to claimthe lives of the innocent (Al Jazeera, 2012 BBC News, 2014 TheGuardian, 2014 Jurist, 2013).
: Impact and Threat to U.S Homeland Security
The Syrian conflict has displaced thousands of people in Syria. Manycivilians and rebels died due to the Syrian army’s aggressiveresponse to widespread protests in the country. Years after theconflict began, Syria, its allies, and other foreign nations stillhave not put an end to the conflict. It requires serious attentionfrom the international community because the impact will becomeextreme. While the ongoing conflict has brought about suffering ofits people, prolonging the standoff could impact other nationsincluding the US. Moreover, the Syrian conflict poses a threat to U.Shomeland security because of the following reasons.
Syria’s Weapons of Mass Destruction
Since it was reported that the country has been acquiring Weapons ofMass Destruction (WMD) with the help of the USSR and North Korea,Syria has been a threat to other nations. Although agreements madewith other nations and international organizations alleviated thisfear, there have always been suspicions of Syria’s possibleinvolvement in terrorist attack. These suspicions are not onlybecause the nation has biological and chemical weapons, but becausethe Syrian conflict has intensified the hostility between U.S andSyria with Obama. The hostility is mainly because of the U.S’decision to support the groups under the moderate opposition that arefighting the Assad’s government. Furthermore, a series of chemicalattacks killed rebels and innocents alike in different cities inSyria. This shows the Syrian government’s willingness to use itsWMDs to contain the enemy and ensure that Assad would survive thefallout and remain as the president of Syria.
Syria’s chemical weaponry has a long history. In 1967, Israelsucceeded in taking control over the Golan Heights, a Syrianterritory, during a six-day war. Since then, Syria has alwaysconsidered Israel as an enemy and a threat. In 1973, the Syriangovernment acquired chemical weapons from Egypt, which was thecountry’s response to Israeli dominance and superior nuclear arms.Shortly after, Syria and Egypt attacked key territories of Israel.Egyptian forces launched the attack by crossing the Suez Canal, whileSyria attacked Golan Heights. Since the late 1900s, ally nationsassisted Syria in developing its biological and chemical warfaredevelopment program. Russia, under the former Union of SovietSocialist Republic (USSR), is one of Syria’s largest suppliers ofmaterials and resources for biological and chemical weaponry.
The Syrian Scientific and Research Center (SSRC) and the SovietUnion’s State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistryand Technology worked together to develop nerve agents (Inbar &Zilberfab, 2013). Aside from these, the USSR also supplied Syria withvarious weapons including missile warheads. The Democratic People’sRepublic of Korea in North Korea and China also assist Syria indeveloping its chemical warfare program. During the 1990s, Syriaallowed North Korea to construct WMD facilitations in the country. Inthe late 1980s, Syria also reached out to China to purchase M-9missiles (Inbar & Zilberfab, 2013).
In 2012, reports about Syria’s chemical weapons surfaced with animplied warning that the Assad government would be willing to launchits chemical weapons if foreign countries attempt to intervene onaccount of Syria’s national defense policy. Shortly after newsbroke out, chemical weapons testing commenced in Aleppo. Theinternational community responded to this with threats of sanctionsshould the Assad government attempt to use its chemical weapons.Chemical weapon attacks continued regardless of these warnings. Theproblem with Syria’s early attempts to use chemical weapons tosubdue rebels, however, is that investigators failed to find ampleevidence of chemical weapons by Assad’s government. Nevertheless,four attacks occurred in Syria in succession in 2012, killinghundreds of civilians and rebels in different cities or districts inAleppo and Damascus. In December 2012, another chemical attack waslaunched in Homs. Shortly after this, the Syrian army invaded theprovince after the chemicals reduced the number of rebels in the area(Schwartz, 2013).
In August 2013, thousands of civilians and rebels died in Ghouta, anarea within the Markaz Rif Dimashq district in Damascus when a rocketcontaining chemicals was launched on location. Images of thecasualties showed no signs of physical damage that could beattributed to guns, bombs or other assault weaponry so many peopleconcluded that residents of Ghouta including rebels that set camp inthis area died from a chemical attack. The UN intervened byinspecting the scene. Results of investigation showed that the rocketlaunched in Ghouta contained a chemical called sarin. Moreover, UNinvestigators claimed that the chemical weapon attack was a seriousoffense because they found significant amounts of Sarin in the sceneof the crime. This discovery made the Ghouta attack worse than theIraq’s attack on Iranian forces using chemical weapons during theIran-Iraq war during the 1980s (RT, 2014 Weiller, 2013).
Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 wherein Assadagreed to have its chemical weapons destroyed (Borger et al, 2013).This agreement, however, does not equate to Syria’s fullcompliance. Even the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons,however, is embroiled in conflict due to Russia’s close ties withSyria. Russia and the U.S brokered a union through the efforts of theU.S Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister SergeiLavrov. The two nations joined forces in 2013 to urge Syria’scompliance to destroy its chemical weapons.
Since Russia is Syria’s ally, Lavrov has succeeded in urging Assadto give up the country’s chemical weapons. After this agreement,Assad assured the international community that it would surrender allchemical weapons by the end of 2013 but the Syrian government failedto deliver on its promise. The UN and the Organization for theProhibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are the international bodiesresponsible for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons (UN NewsCentre, 2014). As previously noted, the process of collecting andtransferring Syria’s chemical weapons has slowed down. In recentweeks, however, Syria has proposed a new agreement and has increasedits pace in relinquishing its chemical weapons to the OPCW-UN (UNNews Centre, 2014).
Syria’s compliance is highly important in this case because U.S andRussia stated that all chemical weapons must be destroyed bymid-2014. Nevertheless, with Syria hedging its delivery of itsweapons, U.S and Russia might fail to achieve their objective withinthe initial timeframe. Moreover, as long as Syria has access to itschemical weapons, it could easily launch a covert attack to killrebels in Syria or to attack foreign supporters of the Syrianopposition. Among the main foreign supporters of the Syrianopposition is the U.S (UN News Centre, 2014).
Experts view the Syria’s non-compliance as a threat or warning toforeign countries including the US. Assad may have failed to complybecause Syria needs its chemical weapons as leverage to discourageforeign nations from interfering with the Syrian conflict. Aside fromSyria’s non-compliance, escalating conflict between the U.S andRussia could also potentially delay the destruction of Syria’schemical weapons. In December 2013, Russia took the initiative bysending an envoy to collect Syria’s chemical weapons. Aftercollecting the weapons, they should be destroyed while in a U.S shipaccompanied by Russian marine vessels.
Nevertheless, Russia has withdrawn its envoy, thereby, delaying thedestruction of Syria’s chemical weapons (Brumfield, 2014). Theopposing stance of the U.S and Russia on the ongoing conflict inUkraine may also be one of the reasons intensifying the gap betweenthese two countries. The conflict in Ukraine is a differentconfrontation, but it shows the disagreement between U.S and Russia.In relation to the Syrian conflict, Russia’s close relations withSyria could influence its position on the matter, which may opposeUS’ position and interfere with the American plans in supportingthe moderate opposition in Syria.
Syria is also a threat to American homeland security because thenation under Assad has engaged in a series of testing to createdifferent types of biological weapons, and develop nuclear arms. In2007, Gordon (2007) interviewed Dr. Jill Dekker, an expert onbiological defense and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s(NATO) consultant on the matter to discuss biological weapons inSyria. Dekker’s account of the long history of biological warfareunderscores the significant impact and threat of bio-warfare-wieldingnations, such as Syria, to U.S homeland security.
According to Dekker (2001), the spread of anthrax in the U.S 2001alerted the authorities and all organizations involved in the threatof more bio-warfare attacks. Since then, U.S has focused onestablishing a system to ensure bio-security in the nation andprotect Americans from possible chemical or biological attacks.Further investigation revealed that Syria and Iran had sophisticatedlaboratories that enabled them to create and test biological weaponssuch as anthrax among others.
Dekker mentioned that because both countries have been manufacturing,chemical and biological weapons, it would be more likely for Iran andSyria to covertly provide terrorist allies with chemical andbio-warfare to achieve their goals and objectives (Gordon, 2007).Syria has close ties with known terrorist groups such as the Hamas,the Hezbollah, and other Islam jihadist groups around the world andthis link between them suggest Syria and Iran’s possibleinvolvement in the spread of biological diseases in different partsof the world in the past and in the coming years (Gordon, 2007).
Whether or not U.S and Russia will successfully destroy Syria’schemical weapons by mid-2014, this will not guarantee that the nationwill no longer be a threat to other nations such as the US. This isbecause Syria and its allies such as Iran and North Korea, remaincapable of developing or manufacturing biological weapons. Inrelation to this, there is a high possibility that Syria will providechemical and biological weapons to terrorist allies. Dekker’sinvestigation of Syria’s biological and chemical weapons prove thatthe nation’s welfare program is highly sophisticated and has sethigher standards than other nations in the Middle East.
According to Dekker, “Syria’s biologicalweapons capability today are closely tied to the former and currentSoviet and Russian programs, respectively, the DPRK, Iran and theformer Iraq regime” (Gordon, 2007). Syria, with the help of itsallies, is capable of developing new and more potent biologicalweapon, such as a highly virulent anthrax strain that can be attachedto missile warheads (Gordon, 2007). Moreover, another factor thatmakes Syria’s chemical and biological warfare development highlysophisticated and threatening to its enemy states is that Assad haslinked pharmaceutical development of biological and chemicaldevelopment.
As a result, Syria has been working on therecreation of pathogens, especially those known to claim the lives ofthousands of people in an epidemic such as anthrax, cholera, andsmallpox among others. Dekker argued that this should concern US,NATO, and other nations because the integration of pharmaceutical andwarfare development means that the Syrian government views biologicaland chemical weapons as viable offensive arms. Furthermore, thisstrategy makes Syria’s testing legal because it can justify itsdevelopment program as part of health and pharmaceutical development(Gordon, 2007).
With Syria’s known allies, it is highly likelythat terrorists will or have been gaining access to the Assadregime’s biological and chemical weapons. Syria’s methods andtechniques in handling biological and chemical warfare developmentalso hints at the nation’s intentions to use weapons for purposesof terrorism. According to Dekker, the Syrian Scientific ResearchCouncil (SSRC) has been researching micro aerosol dispersal, atechnology that increases the scope of the area that can be affectedwith the launching of chemicals or biological weapons. The SSRC isalso looking into technologies that can be integrated to theirchemical and biological weapons that would leave no trace of itsorigins. This means that through micro aerosol dispersal, chemicalsand biological weapons can wipe out large populations.
With anti-West and anti-America terrorist groupsgaining access to biological and chemical weapons, they would be ableto easily deploy it to enemy states, their biggest enemies being theU.S and its ally Israel (Gordon, 2007). Knowing this information,Dekker warned the U.S not to underestimate Syria’s capability andthe progress of its biological and chemical warfare development.Dekker argued that “Syria is very good at conducting covertoperations” (Gordon, 2007) and could very well launch large-scaleattacks against US. With the escalating tension between U.S and Syriaand its allies due to the Syrian civil war, it could trigger aconflict between the two. The conflict could be potentially dangerousdue to the risk of Syria attacking the U.S and Israel by launchingits biological weapons.
Alongside the ongoing conflict between the Assad government and themoderate opposition is the increasing number of radical Islamists inSyria. Amidst the conflict, these radical Islamists saw theopportunity to integrate themselves in the country and further createchaos. We can view this situation from two different angles. RadicalIslamists went to Syria as part of the opposition. Their primary goalwas to help the opposition topple the Assad regime. Although theradical Islamists share the same objective with the moderateopposition, they are also in conflict with one another because theirdesired outcomes are different.
While radical Islamists want to take over the government, activistsof the Syrian opposition want to establish a democratic government.The following discussion focuses on the increasing number of radicalIslamists in Syria, as well as the involvement of terrorist groups insupport of the Assad regime, and their impact and threats on the U.Shomeland security. Hence, the discussion will cover the Syrianconflict’s threats on U.S homeland security because of the growingpresence of radical Islamists in Syria opposing the Assad regime, andthe involvement of Syria’s allies, which not only includes Russia,China, and Lebanon, but also terrorist Islamic groups.
The Syrian conflict may be described as a conflict within a conflict.At the ground level, the groups or factions in the Syrian oppositiondemand that Assad steps down, but they are also in conflict becauseradical Islamists want to take over the government and establish anIslamist nation while the moderate opposition demands a democraticgovernment. In July 2013, Kamal Hamami, also known as Abu Bassiral-Ladkani, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, died at the hands ofmembers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), a factionlinked to the al-Qaeda (Associated Press, 2014).
Rebel groups fighting the Assad regime may be categorized into two –the jihadists and the moderate opposition. On one hand, Jihadistsfight the Assad regime with the hopes of establishing an Islamicstate that is grounded on the Sharia Law. ISIS has been contributingto the efforts of jihadists in Syria to overthrow Assad’sgovernment. On the other hand, the moderate opposition is those thatcall for a democratic Syria. Meanwhile, conflict also exists betweenthe Assad government and the opposition. On a larger scale, theconflict also extends to other nations because of the impact of theSyrian conflict – on U.S homeland security, for instance – andthe conflict between nations that have diverging ideas and plans toresolve the conflict.
In the conflict, different countries support different factions. Forinstance, Iran and Lebanon support Assad’s government while someWestern countries, including the U.S support and finance the needs ofthe opposition. Moreover, member nations of the UN Security Councilfailed to decide on a permanent solution to resolve the Syrianconflict with China and Russia vetoing resolutions. In February 2014,however, the UN Security Council finally decided on a plan when allmember states agreed to take the humanitarian route in addressing theSyrian conflict (Associated Press, 2014). Nevertheless, conflictstill exists even in the international community with varying vestedinterests among nations. Moreover, the UN Security Council still hasnot decided on a permanent solution to force Assad into putting anend to needless violence in Syria. The Council’s resolution merelyaddressed the basic needs of civilians in Syria.
Radical Islamists Gaining Ground in Syria
The Syrian conflict was a response to the dominant dictatorial regimein the country. In the modern world, perhaps the best indicator ofoppression in Syria, apart from the inhumane treatment of minoritiesand members of the opposition in the country, is the Assadgovernment’s implementation of restrictions in the public’s useof the Internet and social media. Admittedly, human rights violationstake precedence, but restrictions on the use of social mediaillustrate the oppressive government of Syria, and consequentlyexplain why the opposition calls for the establishment of democraticgovernment. Many Syrians, especially activists and members of theopposition, feel that in this day and age, their government shouldgrant them the freedom and the right to make decisions for thenation. Part of this right includes the right to suffrage throughwhich the people of Syria can elect a leader that will be able touphold democracy in the country.
The U.S Government intervened in the Syrian Conflict due to grosshuman rights violations committed as a result of hostilities betweenthe government and rebel groups. The case of the Syrian Conflict doesnot only put the blame on one side but on both sides. This is becausethe actions of both the military and the rebel groups led to thedeath of thousands of people since the conflict started in 2011. TheU.S must intervene in order to ensure that the conflict will notescalate and that the military under the Assad regime will not exactany more damages that would lead to civilian death. Although thesedeclarations may be well-intentioned and regardless of the criticismsof America’s intentions in intervening, the U.S government needs tointervene because the Syrian conflict also affects the security ofother nations including it.
Despite the internal protests and international pressure, Assad’sgovernment continues to insist on maintaining the country’ssocialist government. One of the ways that the Assad government hasmanaged to do so is to garner the support of jihadists to support theSyrian army. In recent years, jihadists have gained ground, in Syria,including those from neighboring countries such as Jordan. Theincreasing presence of jihadists in Syria encourages violence andterrorism.
In 2004, at the height of the Iraqi war, former President George W.Bush warned Syria about its participation in the crossing ofjihadists across the border. The Bush administration then expressedconcern about Syria’s participation in the escape of terroristsacross the border as well as the entry of WMDs across Syria. This notonly led to prolonged conflict, but also led to the influx ofjihadists in the country, which has buoyed Assad’s regime.Moreover, the increasing jihadist presence in Syria has implicationson U.S intervention, such that the involvement of the Obamaadministration makes U.S an enemy of Syria. Consequently, Syria couldretaliate by commissioning its terrorist allies to covertly attackUS.
Assad had supported jihadists for decades. As a leader, Assad usedthe threat of jihadist attacks to influence public opinion. Byfueling the growth of jihadists in Syria, Assad was able to instillfear among the people and discourage some from joining theinitiatives of the moderate opposition. Aside from using force tooverwhelm rebel groups in Syria, Assad also resorted to propaganda inorder to diminish blame on the Syrian government. In the beginning,Assad denied that the protests in his country were influenced by thewave of the Arab Spring. Assad claimed that radical jihadists inSyria were responsible for the protests and that these jihadistsgained backing from foreign governments and groups.
Assad’s viewpoint is that these foreign entities sought to spreadinstability in Syria and went as far as to call the protests an actof terrorism. Since Assad took this stance, he justified harshretaliations by his regime by equating the uprising to terrorism.Similarly, Assad put the blame on the moderate opposition’s foreignsupporters in order to place blame on the US. Assad claimed that theU.S and its allies have been using rebel groups in Syria to createchaos and bring down the Assad regime. When rebel groups succeed,Assad claimed that the U.S will try to impose or influence governmenttransition in Syria (O’Bagy, 2013).
The opposition in Syria is composed of several groups thatcollectively dispute autocracy in the country. Although these groupsadhere to different ethnic and religious principles, they agree thata dictatorship has been a hindrance to social and economicdevelopment in Syria. Alongside the growing protests, however,jihadist groups saw the opportunity and mobilized to join theconflict, and somehow model the revolutionary narrative. The jihadistgroup in Syria calls themselves the Salafi-jihadists who gain supportof foreign terrorist groups, including the Al-Qaeda and otherjihadist networks. The presence of Salafi-jihadists in Syriacomplicates U.S intervention because it has solidified and justifiedAssad’s stay in power.
Political analysts claimed that if Assad secedes, Salafi-jihadistswould take over the government through sheer force. Syria, under therule of this group would establish the nation as a breeding groundfor extremism and terrorism. It is the main goal of Salafi-jihadistsin Syria – to overthrow Assad’s regime so they can take over andcontinue increasing in number and power. As previously mentioned,this not only encourages terrorism, but also allows terrorist groupslike the Al-Qaeda to increase in force. This becomes a threat tonational security in the U.S due to the hazard of a strong andcapable terrorist group attacking the West with renewed resources andbacking from Syria.
The Boston Marathon bombing proves that the growing presence ofjihadists in Syria is a threat to homeland security. On April 15,2013, two explosives went off near the Boston Marathon finish line.Three spectators died while 264 others were injured. The FederalBureau of Investigation (FBI) took over the investigation of thebombings. The FBI identified the suspects, five days later throughthe surveillance footage obtained. In the video, the FBI identifiedtwo men carrying backpacks. With the help of witnesses who saw andknew these two men, the FBI identified the suspects as two brothers –Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The link between the BostonMarathon bombing and the Syrian Conflict may be far fetched, but thehistory of this conflict says otherwise.
Many protesters in Syria come from neighboring countries and theyhave differing opinions and intentions in joining the rebellion. Someof those that joined the protests came from the Caucasus region wherethe Tsarnaev brothers originated from. The Tsarnaevs were Islamistswho supported the cause of other people in Arab nations calling forthe breakdown of any regime that do not support the Islamistinitiative. Further investigations also prove that the Tsarnaevsconsider themselves not only as Islamists but also Salafists.Authorities believe that the Tsarnaevs organized the Boston Marathonbombing as a way of promoting their extremist Islamic beliefs throughterrorism and as a response to U.S intervention and foreign policiesin Arab nations.
The Tsarnaevs case illustrates why the growing presence of jihadistsand extremists in Syria is a potential threat to American homelandsecurity. While conflict intensifies in various. S countries in theMiddle East, radical Islamists find a way to assert their views andaccomplish their shared goals and objectives. Part of their goal ismaking statements and exacting fear through violence and terrorism,as displayed by the motives of the Tsarnaevs behind the BostonMarathon Bombing. It is similarly important to note that other peoplefrom the Tsarnaevs hometown have participated in the series ofuprisings in the Middle East, including the civil war in Syria.
The presence of radical Islamists in Syria is a serious problembecause it would allow extremists, terrorist groups like the al-Qaedato spread terrorism in order to achieve their objective of gainingcontrol through the Sharia Law. Radical Islamists have gained theirground in Syria since they saw the Syrian conflict as an opportunityto integrate them, overthrow the Assad regime, and begin assertingtheir power and influence over the Syrians. When this happens, plansto expand their rule to neighboring countries will not be far fetchedespecially when they succeed in Syria.
Herein lies the danger in allowing radical Islamists to gain theirground. It would allow them to strengthen their force and extendtheir influence and control. Since radical Islamists is stronglyanti-Western and radicals, they will likely resort to terrorism inorder to expand their control, and U.S will be one of their primarytargets.
O’Bagy (2013) sought to frame what life in Syria would be like ifradical Islamist groups succeed in taking over Assad’s regime. Shebased assumptions and predictions on the situation in the al-Raqqacity in Syria, which was taken over by Islamist rebels in March 2013.According to O’Bagy (2013), radical Islamist rule in al-Raqqaclearly shows how governance would be in Syria if Assad falls andIslamists take over. After driving away military forces in al-Raqqaafter a violent confrontation that left people dead and structuresdestroyed, radical Islamists groups have taken over the city.
O’Bagy (2013) reports that under the Islamist rule, radical groups– Salafi-jihadists, including the Jabhat al-Wahda al-Tahriral-Islamiyya, Jabhat Nusra faction and, Ahrar al-Sham– were able toimpose and maintain control in the city. Rebels surprisingly handledthe takeover in an organized manner. They even formed groups thatwould perform various duties, from maintaining order in the city toensure that no looting would occur and upholding security to protectcivilians, and public and private property. Moreover, rebels madesure that the city would receive ample supply of electricity, sopeople can continue with their daily activities.
Despite the efforts of radical Islamist groups to establish andmaintain order in al-Raqqa, their approaches in doing so remainquestionable. Jabhat Nusra initiated the formation of a ‘moralitypolice’, a group of armed men tasked to observe and monitorcivilians in the city. Part of the morality police’s responsibilityis to impose strict Sharia Laws from the way they conduct themselvesin public and private to the way they dress or communicate with oneanother. According to O’Bagy (2013), radical Islamists believe thatbased on the teachings in Islam, holding elections is not theappropriate way to select a leader. Overall, radical Islamists imposethe strict, and unjust, implementation of Islamic Laws, which isclearly their denouncement of democracy and diplomacy.
Islamist groups’ presence in al- Raqqa intensified the fears ofpeople in the city. “There is growing anger over some of the newrules being implemented by these more radical Islamist groups, andprotests against their actions are becoming more frequent throughoutthe country” (O’Bagy, 2013). Syrian activists in citiescontrolled by radical Islamists, including al-Raqqa, have stagedseveral protests to depose the latter. Many activists expressed theirconcern that even if Assad’s regime falls, radical Islamists wouldtake over by force and bring about another dictatorial governmentthat would be worse than the Assad’s government. In this conflict,Syrian activists and civilians are caught between two evils.
Within the established context of the foregoing discussion, thethreat to American homeland security in the U.S comes from thepossible influence of radical Islamist groups if they succeed intaking over the Syrian government. The years after 9/11, Americanforces were able to contain retaliate and successfully eliminate theal-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin-Laden.
In Syria, jihadists and members of the al-Qaeda joined the civil warand if they succeed in toppling the Assad regime and fending offrebel groups under the moderate opposition, they can successfullyestablish their own government. When this happens, they would be ableto gain and utilize Syria’s resources to strengthen their army,continue to establish Islamist nations in neighboring states, untilthey would be able to build large terrorist groups to accomplishtheir goals, which is to destabilize the West and achieve globaldominance. Simply, radical Islamists gaining ground could potentiallyempower them and allow them to expand their power and influence andachieve their goals through terrorism.
Terrorist Groups: Syria’s Allies
Iran is a staunch supporter of Syria. When the conflict intensifiedin the last five years, Iran helped the government to keep PresidentBashar al-Assad in power in order to secure the country’sinterests. Iran did so under the condition that it will continue toutilize its assets in Syria whether Assad’s regime fails or not.Iran supports Syria’s military, share intelligence resources withthe government, and assists shabiha militias that are knownsupporters of Assad. Iran’s deployment of its military assets,including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) illustratesthe country’s motives in using the Syrian conflict to make astatement about Iran’s military strength.
The Lebanese Hezbollah has also supported Assad’s regimeconsistently. In 2012, rebel forces took over the territories inSyria. In response, the Hezbollah took combative position to help thegovernment regain control over these territories. It is known thatthe Hezbollah’s objectives are in line with Iran’s and therefore,both had worked together to fight rebels in Syria. Hezbollah’sinvolvement in the Syrian conflict intensifies the threat to homelandsecurity in the U.S because this group is anti-Western andanti-Israeli. The Hezbollah claimed responsibility over variousterrorist acts including the bombing of the United States Embassy inBeirut, Lebanon during the 1980s, and subsequent attacks to U.S andU.S ally structures (Moore, n.d.).
Another country that has supported the Assad government is Iraq. In2012, Iraqi forces also joined the civil war to support Assad. Iraqformed the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, which constitutes IraqiShi’a and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Syrian, and Lebanon and Kata’ibHezbollah forces, to aid Syria’s military in combat. Theinvolvement of Iraq and Lebanon and other smaller groups or partiesfrom these countries in the Civil War in Syria illustrate thesectarian nature of the conflict. Consequently, if a conflict in theMiddle East has sectarian or denominational origins, then it is athreat to homeland security in the U.S not on account of religion butbecause of radicalism.
Radical Islamism is akin to militancy resulting from extremist viewsabout religion and the world. Moore (n.d.) traced the evolution ofIslamic terrorism and its link to the September 2001 suicide bombingof the World Trade Center in New York. Historically speaking,Islamist terrorism can be traced as a result of colonialism duringthe early 1900s, specifically the widespread influence of the Westduring and after the colonial period. Many Western nations, includingthe U.S were responsible for the colonization of countries indifferent regions including the Middle East. The objectives ofWestern governments and even private organizations were rooted intheir own interests. Imperialism resulted to the slavery of thousandsof people, including Muslims in the Middle East, and the widespreadpoverty in this region after the colonial period ended (Khawaja,2011).
One of the most notable developments during the post-colonial periodis the US’ support of Israel, which prompted revolutions againstthe West across the Middle East. Extremists thought that violence andterrorism is the only way to communicate their views and opinionabout global politics, especially about Western (and American)imperialism. Terrorism then intensified during the mid-1900s with theformation of various. S Islamist groups including the Popular Frontfor the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP (Khawaja, 2011). Militantinitiatives during these years resulted in the death of thousands ofcivilians. Since then, Islamist radicals staged terrorist stunsaround the world with the objective of expressing their anti-Americanviews.
Going back to Syria’s allies – Russia, Lebanon, China, and knownterrorist groups – the country’s links to terrorist groups is athreat to American homeland security because of the Syrian army’scapabilities combined with the forces of its allies. The U.S hassolidified its stance against the Assad regime. Although U.S withdrewits support of rebel groups before due to reports that radicalIslamist groups have been benefiting from it, Obama has recentlyexpressed that his government will continue to support the moderateopposition by sending additional resources and more troops. Thismeans that with the U.S government’s continued support of Assad’sadversaries, and the conflict between U.S and Syria’s allies inlight of recent issues concerning Syria’s chemical weapons andCrimea, could trigger retaliation directed at US.
American Supporters of the Syrian Conflict
Many people from other countries also fly to Syria and support theopposition to call for the end of Assad’s regime and theirexperiences also show why and how their involvement in the conflictis a potential threat to their country’s security. Similarly, theirexperiences prove why and how the involvement of Americans in theSyrian conflict poses a threat to homeland security. From Canada,Damian Clairmont went to Syria to unite with opposition rebels andfight the Assad regime. While in Syria, Clairmont adopted the aliasAbu Talha Al-Kanadi after joining Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist groupthat is strongly linked to the al-Qaeda network. Clairmont was one ofthe casualties in infighting among the Jabhat al-Nusra and members ofthe Free Syrian Army. Clairmont is not the only Canadian that joinedthe Syrian conflict. Many Canadians also traveled to Syria and eitherjoined the moderate opposition or rebel Islamist groups, the latterof which is the reason why their involvement in the conflict is athreat to national security in Canada (Shephard, 2014).
Some Americans also went to Syria to support a rebellion against theAssad regime. Nevertheless, since radical Islamists has also joinedthe civil war, some Americans have been recruited by terrorist groupsincluding the al-Qaeda. U.S intelligence revealed that the al-Qaedahas been trying to recruit Americans in Syria to join their training.Al-Qaeda recruits Americans, trains them, and then urges them toreturn to the US. Recruited Americans will then carry out al-Qaeda’sterrorist activities in the US.
The U.S has also gathered information about the whereabouts ofal-Qaeda’s bomb expert, Ibrahim al-Asiri. Asiri is in Yemen and hehas been actively creating different types of bombs, includingwearable underwear bombs. By putting these events together, it isrational to arrive at the assumption that if al-Qaeda successfullyrecruits and trains Americans that are in Syria to join theirtraining, these Americans could be threats to American homelandsecurity as the al-Qaeda can manipulate them into carrying outsuicide bombing attacks in the US. Recent developments of al-Qaedatraining camps in Syria also fuel speculations about this issue, andtherefore, raise the possibility of these events happening in the U.Ssoil (Starr, 2014).
Solutions and Recommendations
Over the years, the international community has attempted to resolvethe Syrian conflict. Nevertheless, due to various challenges andbarriers, these solutions and recommendations have failed to solvethe conflict. Essentially, solutions and recommendations fall undertwo major alternatives – overpowering the Assad regime by force orthrough political negotiations. The following discussion focuses onsolutions and recommendations under both categories. Resolving theconflict by force involves support of foreign nations. U.S can assumethis role since it is capable of supporting the moderate oppositionin Syria. In terms of political negotiations, the UN can attempt toresolve the situation by continuing its efforts to broker agreementsbetween the moderate opposition and the Syrian government.
The Role of the Moderate Opposition
As previously noted, the ‘moderate opposition’ refers to Syriansand non-Syrians alike that constitute the opposition that demands fora democratic government. It is highly important that the distinctionbetween the moderate opposition and the radical Islamists should beestablished because although both groups are fighting Assad’sregime, their goals and objectives are different. While the moderateopposition dreams of a democratic Syria, radical Islamists are thosethat aim for the global dominance of Islam and Muslims, even if thismeans that they push forward with their objectives through militancy,violence, and terrorism. Herein lies the difference and the reasonwhy support for the Syrian opposition must be clarified so solutionsand recommendations would be linked in a diplomatic manner to attemptto bring about stability in Syria. In this case, one of the ways tohelp Syria is drawing support for the moderate opposition.
Part of the moderate opposition members in Syria is the group FreeSyrian Army (FSA). The formation of the FSA resulted from the discordwithin the Syrian army that divided the forces into pro- andanti-Assad factions. Syrian military men that were against Assadformed the FSA. In 2011, the FSA led them by army defector ColonelRiad al-Asaad, released a video footage where they introduce thegroup and themselves and call other members of the Syrian army tojoin them in their fight to bring down Assad’s regime.
The FSA initially worked with other anti-Assad groups of the moderateopposition, but due to inadequacy of resources, they were forced toalso work with people in the opposition that were radical Islamists.Members of the FSA also allied with al-Qaeda forces. In September2013, various. S units of the FSA joined forces with radicalIslamists, including an al-Qaeda faction Al Nusrah Front for thePeople of the Levant. The FSA made an agreement with the lattergroups to unite not only to bring down an Assad’s regime, but alsoto demand U.S to withdraw its support of the Syrian NationalCoalition and to reject the coalition’s plans, objectives, and rolein the conflict. Some of the FSA units that joined forces with theal-Qaeda chose to support the vision of radical Islamists of a nationunder the Sharia Law rather than support the US-backed SyrianNational Coalition (Roggio, 2013).
Radical Islamists would expectedly reject the Syrian NationalCoalition but for some people who were part of the moderateopposition, they chose to align themselves with radical Islamistsbecause of their fear that foreign nations such as the U.S wouldimpose once Assad steps down. The U.S should remember that themoderate opposition calling for a democratic government demands theright to influence government policies and outcomes as in otherdemocratic states. Other groups under the moderate opposition feelthat the involvement of Western nations could jeopardize their chancebecause some believe that the U.S would manipulate the Syriangovernment’s transition to place people in power whose stance wouldbenefit US, Israel and their allies.
In light of these issues that are dividing the sensible, moderateopposition, one of the ways that U.S can address the problem toascertain stability and diminish threats to national security is tohelp the moderate opposition achieve their objective of establishinga democratic Syria. The moderate opposition needs support locally andinternationally, but this assistance would also mean the continuityof the armed resistance and fight. Although this strategy isundiplomatic, using force is necessary due to the hostile approach ofthe Syrian government in dealing with rebels. The continued supportof the moderate opposition of the U.S, specifically in terms ofmilitary resources and financial aid, would help the moderateopposition fight the Syrian army.
However, supporting the Syrian opposition is complex and it isunderstandable why dialogue about the Syrian conflict often becomesmuddled. For one, there are various groups with different vestedinterests within and outside Syria. In Syria, the conflict is betweenthe opposition and the Assad regime, but the former is also dividedbetween the moderate opposition and radical Islamists. In recentmonths, the moderate opposition has shown signs of internal conflictbecause various groups are fighting for different outcomes forself-serving reasons. As previously discussed, one of the groups thatopposes the Assad regime includes radical Islamists. If foreignnations plan to support the moderate opposition, they should makesure that support reaches groups under the moderate opposition thatcall for a democratic government instead of the radical Islamists.
Helping the moderate opposition as a solution in resolving the Syrianconflict requires foreign nations’ certainty that support goesthrough appropriate channels and reaches the right groups. InFebruary 2014, the FSA replaced its former leader General SelimIdriss. Commanders of the FSA all agreed to do so after a series ofmissteps that led FSA to lose not only its resources to radicalIslamist groups but also its influence in various Syrian territories.On one occasion, radical militias, despite being part of theopposition, ambushed FSA’s supplies (Spencer, 2014). Since the U.Sand its allies in the Middle East have been gearing up to send moremilitary support to assist the opposition, FSA commanders saw it fitto replace Idriss with a more capable and charismatic leader torecoup former FSA members that chose to join radical Islamist groups(Roggio, 2013). With the ongoing and increased support from Westernand Middle Eastern countries, moderate opposition groups, includingthe FSA are expected to re-establish their force and influence andfight the Assad regime while also fending off attacks from rivalradical Islamist groups.
Furthermore, if the U.S takes this route, which the governmentalready did and which is a more violent means, the country would needsupport from other nations. The U.S government chose to increasemilitary support to the opposition so that it can prevent the spreadof radical Islamism in Syria while also boosting the strength of theopposition to fight Assad’s growing army. Nevertheless, the U.Scannot do it alone. As reported by Ahmed Jarba, the head of theSyrian National Council, foreign support for the last few years hadbeen inadequate. Jarba expressed his understanding that using forceover political negotiations to resolve the Syrian conflict mayescalate violence in Syria but it is a necessary evil. Jarba believesthat Assad and the Syrian opposition would not be able to address theconflict if the latter does not gain the military force and influenceneeded to overwhelm Assad’s army. As a result, Jarba has recentlyasked U.S and other countries for military assistance (Valiente,2014). U.S has allies in some Western and Middle Eastern countries,but these and other nations must continue to support Syria until suchtime that the opposition has driven away the Assad regime,re-establish the government through democratic means, and slowlytransition and recover to gain stability.
A more diplomatic means would be to focus on the politics of theSyrian conflict to arrive at a solution. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UnitedNations’ envoy to Syria since August 2012, launched an initiativeintended to end the conflict in Syria. Brahimi worked with Russia andthe U.S to bring together representatives of the Syrian oppositionand the Assad regime and to broker negotiations between two parties.Brahimi advised both Syrian parties to end military engagement andfind a political solution, which is more peaceful and would benefitboth parties through negotiation. The Geneva Communique on June 2012should guide decision-making and negotiations between both parties.The Action Group of representatives from various countries, includingthe U.S convened in Geneva to talk about possible solutions to endthe Syrian conflict in order to end the killing of innocentcivilians, human rights abuses, and the destruction ofinfrastructures in Syria. Members of the Action Group led by KofiAnnan agreed on a six-point peace plan for Syria. According to theUnited Nations Action Group (2012) the Syrian government is urged tocomply with the following:
Commitment to work alongside the envoys of the United Nations in inclusive political processes that are led Syria. The efforts will be aimed at addressing the concerns and legitimate aspirations of the people of Syria.
Commitment to stop the infighting in the country, and to urgently work to achieve an effective cessation process that will be supervised by the UN. This should achieve cessation of all forms of armed violence by all parties in order to protect civilians from war atrocities and stabilize the country
Ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to people suffering in the civil war zones
To intensify the speedy release of arbitrarily detained persons, especially those involved in peaceful political activities
Ensure that journalists enjoy their freedom of movement in the country and adopt non-discriminatory visa policy.
Respect the right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of association and as legally granted.
Source: United Nations Action Group, 2012
While the UN Action Group failed to implement the six-point plan, theorganization with the help of other nations should continuenegotiations until such time that the Syrian opposition and theSyrian government find common ground that would end violence inSyria. In the process, the UN and its allies should find a way toimplement sanctions properly, especially when Syria and its alliesfail to comply with international laws and guidelines. Syria’s tieswith known terrorist groups, for instance, are a blatant disregardfor international laws.
Furthermore, chemical attacks in previous years illustrate the Assadregime’s negligence and willingness to use WMDs in order to containrebels. Until now, Syria has failed to deliver the nation’schemical weapons stockpile. Syria has failed to comply with laws andagreements, and if this continues, the nation would fail to realizethe importance of following them. Consequently, Syria will continueto break the rules and with the nation’s capabilities, it couldlaunch terrorist attacks against U.S and Israel with the help of itsallies.
Since the considerations are about diplomatic ways to resolve theSyrian conflict, part of resolving the conflict would be for the U.Sto initiate peace pacts not only in Syria but also with its allies.This could be done simultaneously with the pressure on Syriaregarding its WMD program and involvement with terrorist groups. Itis the UN’s role to broker and receive calls for negotiations andagreements. U.S should work with the UN to seek for more viable andeffective solutions to end the crisis and spare the lives of rebelsand civilians in Syria. UN should also assume responsibility inurging Russia and China to work with the rest of member nations toresolve the conflict.
Although recent talks revealed Russia’s and China’s agreementwith the plan, both countries had vetoed it twice before. Russia’sand China’s rejection of the UN’s action plan delayed theprocess. It is highly important that the UN impose or influenceRussia and China to agree with the action plan for the very reasonthat the Syrian conflict must end soon to prevent the death of othercivilians. Human rights must take precedence over the politicalinterests of Syria and its allies. In addition, the UN must look forways to get Russia and China to understand the importance of endingthe conflict (Cortright, 2013).
In terms of the Syrian opposition, the UN should look for ways tounite groups under the opposition. These groups have opposing viewsabout the government and this is evident with the Syrian NationalCouncil’s breakaway from the Syrian National Coalition before thesecond Geneva talks with Syria. The internal conflict weakens theopposition, which therefore, leads to their failure in defeatingAssad’s regime. For this reason, the UN and groups under themoderate opposition should look for ways to unite, plan and takeaction to accomplish shared goals and objectives. The Syrianopposition must understand that as they negotiate with the Syriangovernment, they must also negotiate with one another so they canestablish a solid opposition that can take down the Assad regime.Furthermore, a solid opposition would be able to handle thetransition of the Syrian government to a democratic state.
One of the problems previously raised was the possible involvement ofAmericans in terrorist activists in the U.S had the al-Qaedasuccessfully recruited, indoctrinated, and trained them while theywere in Syria. This possibility is fueled by the presence of al-Qaedatraining camps in Syria and the increasing number of Americanssupporting the rebellion against the Assad government. In a hostileenvironment where members or groups under the moderate opposition areeasily overwhelmed by the Syrian army or radical Islamists, activistsincluding those from the U.S can easily be swayed to join theal-Qaeda.
Moreover, developments in al-Qaeda weapons, as gathered by U.Sintelligence, could mean that the group is planning to conduct aseries of suicide bombings. If indoctrinated Americans return to theUS, they could be used by the al-Qaeda to accomplish their terroristgoals. As a response to this threat, the authorities with theguidance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have beenconducting surveillance of Americans that have returned to the U.Sfrom Syria (Stout, 2014). U.S should continue monitoring Americanswho returned from Syria to make sure that they were not indoctrinatedby the al-Qaeda.
Strengths and Challenges of Proposed Solutions
The previous section lists different solutions and recommendations tosolve the Syrian conflict. Major solutions include these two: themilitarization of the Syrian opposition through continued foreignsupport and through diplomacy by means of political negotiations. Theaforementioned solutions and recommendations will be discussed belowwithin the context of each one’s strengths and the challenges thatU.S or international organizations would face in implementing orfulfilling them.
Militarization is a possible solution because helping the Syrianopposition through the distribution of military resources can be theeasiest way to destabilize the Assad regime. A democratic Syria isthe best possible outcome that would manifest when the conflict ends.Nevertheless, Assad must step down from power or at the very leastagree to ascertain the transition of the Syrian government. The UNAction Group and the Syrian opposition have tried to negotiate withthe Syrian government, but talks have not been effective.
Militarization, especially with significant support from foreignnations, will easily help the Syrian opposition take over thegovernment. Although militarization would lend the moderateopposition necessary force to bring about government transition inSyria, it is difficult to achieve on account of the inadequatesupport of foreign nations. One of the proposed solutionsnecessitates the U.S government’s effort to draw commitment fromother nations to support the moderate opposition in Syria.
The U.S has allies in the Middle East and the West that is willing toprovide military assistance to rebel groups that fight for democracyin Syria. However, America should encourage other nations to supportthe initiative. Without the support of other countries, radicalIslamist groups and the Assad regime could easily overwhelm themoderate opposition. As a result, the moderate opposition would failto depose Assad and eradicate Islamist presence in Syria to make wayfor democracy. Militarization will only be successful if foreignnations contribute to help groups under the moderate opposition fightthe Syrian army and radical Islamists in the country.
Supporting the moderate opposition is one way of helping Syria toachieve stability and overthrow the Assad regime. Nevertheless,accomplishing this aim is difficult due to stalled negotiations. U.Sand ally nations have been hosting dialogues and negotiations withthe moderate opposition, but agreements fail to reach fruition. InNovember 2012, Qatar hosted talks with the US, the United StatesEmirates, the Syrian National Coalition, and groups in the moderateopposition. The objective of the dialogue was to convince members ofthe moderate opposition to unite with the SNC to bring down Assad’sregime. However, the dialogue was postponed, when mostrepresentatives of the Syrian opposition left. Conflict amongdifferent Syrian groups, especially those belonging to the oppositionpresents problems and challenges. Without Syrian opposition groupsworking together, initiatives would be weak and would fail to leave amark or impact.
Foreign support for the opposition is also a problem in itself. Theforegoing discussion described the fear and anxiety of some people inSyria, which prompted some groups under the moderate opposition tobreak away from the Syrian National Coalition. Since the U.S isinvolved in negotiations and in backing rebels in Syria, someactivists and members of the opposition believe that America couldimpose or influence the transition of the Syrian government if theopposition succeeds. Hence, foreign nations supporting the moderateopposition must clarify boundaries in their involvement in the Syrianconflict.
As previously noted, some Syrians now fear that the involvement ofWestern countries in the conflict will limit their freedom ascitizens. They fear that their right to make decisions for themselveswould be stripped away by foreign nations. The U.S government mustacknowledge that one of the reasons why even some groups formerlydubbed as part of the moderate opposition allied with radicalIslamist groups is because of prevalent fear and anxiety over theWest’s influence and intentions. Fear and anxiety among the Syrianopposition are warranted because of the West and the Middle East’slong history dating back to the colonial period.
Other members or groups that fall under the moderate oppositionprefer a diplomatic solution that would diminish violence in Syria.The Syrian National Coalition is supposed to look after theirinterests. However, groups under the opposition, especially thosefighting the Syrian army and radical Islamists feel that other groupsin the moderate opposition, especially those that hold higherpolitical positions are not willing to look after the interests ofall Syrians. The members of moderate opposition that embroil incombat are willing to risk their lives and fight for the freedom anddemocracy in the country. As previously noted, these people seek ademocratic government under which they and their family and lovedones can exercise their rights.
Continuous support of Syria’s allies also makes it difficult forthe moderate opposition to topple Assad’s regime. Russia is one ofSyria’s strongest allies and throughout the conflict has beenresponsible for sending weapons and other resources and funding theAssad government’s operations to keep the rebels at bay. Aside fromsupport from Syria’s allies, Assad has remained in governmentbecause of the weak and disunited opposition. Syrian opposition ismade of two major groups – moderate opposition and the radicalIslamists and these two groups are further subdivided into differentgroups, groups that aim for different objectives but united in themain goal of toppling Assad’s regime. Concessions should be able tounite these groups, but their differences in views and opinionsovershadow their need to work together. As a result, infighting oftenoccurs between groups or factions of the opposition and this weakenstheir capacity to overthrow Assad whose regime stands to gain frominternal conflict within the opposition.
The weakening of the opposition is also caused by the refusal of somegroups in the opposition to help other groups. The Syrian NationalCouncil is an organization based in Turkey that constitutes membersof the opposition who consider their council as the ‘government inexile. Later on, the Syrian National Council merged with other groupsof the opposition to form the Syrian National Coalition. In January2014, right before the second Geneva conference on the Syrianconflict, the Syrian National Council withdrew from the Coalitionafter the latter decided to join the conference. The Council’swithdrawal illustrates the dogged conflict among members or groups inthe opposition, which makes it difficult for them to decide on aunified plan to deal with Assad. The fissure within the opposition isadvantageous for Assad because the Syrian military, with the help ofSyria’s allies, can easily overwhelm the opposition divided intosmaller groups that have no solid plans to defeat the Assad regimethrough sheer force.
UN’s implementation of the six-point peace plan for Syria is one ofthe possible solutions to end the conflict in the country.Nevertheless, since the UN Action Group drafted the six-point plan inGeneva in 2012, the Assad government has failed to comply even afteragreeing to follow the plan. Noncompliance is therefore one of thechallenges or barriers to fulfilling the agreed solution. For one,the Assad government has continued its violent approach in dealingwith rebels in the country. Chemical attacks occurred in successionsince 2012 and until Syria was sanctioned for its possession ofchemical weapons. The implementation of an action plan is effectivebecause it is diplomatic and non-violent. Unlike militarization, theaction plan would not aggravate further tensions in Syria. However,disagreements among UN member states and Syria opposition groups,difficulties in implementing plans, and Syria’s non-compliance, allpresent barriers to the peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict.
The foregoing discussion illustrates the many ways that the Syrianconflict presents a threat to U.S homeland security. First, fordecades, Syria has gradually developed its biological and chemicalwarfare program through the nation’s SSRC and with the assistanceof ally nations such as Russia, North Korea, and China. Syria hasalso accumulated different weapons, such as missile warheads, overthe years. Moreover, some reports reveal Syria’s involvement in anuclear development program with North Korea. Secondly, Syria is anally of Russia and China, as well as terrorist groups such as theHamas and the Hezbollah. The alliance between Syria and terroristgroups illustrate that both parties share common goals, which arerooted in anti-West or anti-American sentiments.
It is rational to relate this alliance to the first point that Syriahas successfully established a sophisticated biological and chemicalwarfare program. Research reveals that part of this program is theintegration of technologies with these weapons that expand theirscope of damage. This proves that the weapons can be used to targetor attack large populations. Consequently, since Syria has developedbiological and chemical weapons, and it has ties with terroristgroups, it is possible that Assad could use the terrorist ties tolaunch a terrorist attack using its biological or chemical weapons toretaliate against the US. U.S is one of Syria’s possible targetsbecause of the American ties with Israel, and because U.S issupporting the moderate opposition that is against the Assad regime.
Third, the Syrian conflict has attracted radical Islamist groups,including the al-Qaeda, in Syria. Radical Islamists are part of theopposition, but they expect different outcomes after the fall ofAssad. As previously noted, radical Islamists want to establish anIslamist state that they can control using the Sharia Law. When theysucceed, their power, influence, and reach would grow. This will givethem adequate resources to fulfill their goals through terrorism.O’Bagy (2013) made observations about the way that radicalIslamists governs their captured territories in Syria. Although theyare very organized in doing so, they also set extreme rules thatviolate human rights and equality. In this case, democracy takesprecedence over an order.
Fourth, the U.S support to the rebels in Syria also threatensAmerican homeland security. Israel and U.S intelligence reportsreveal that Al-Qaeda have been trying to recruit and indoctrinateAmericans that have joined the Syrian opposition in the conflict. Ifthey succeed in recruiting Americans, the al-Qaeda can use them tocarry out attacks in the US.
Solutions and recommendations fall under two categories:militarization and political negotiation. Militarization wouldrequire support of foreign nations, including the U.S to fund rebelgroups under the moderate opposition faction. Militarization ispossibly the quickest way to topple the Assad’s government,especially if the opposition receives adequate support. However, itwill also aggravate tensions in the country. The Syrian army isalready brutal and aggressive in the way they deal with the rebels.If rebels fight back, it will escalate the conflict. On the contrary,the UN could broker negotiations as a diplomatic way to deal with thecrisis. It is a more peaceful solution, but the primary issue is thatthere are complexities and issues that are slowing down talks ordeliberations.
This is because the Syrian opposition is divided by some groups suchas the Syrian National Council refusing to participate in talks.Moreover, Russia and China are not supportive when it comes to actionplanning. Syria also fails to comply with statures with theagreements. To resolve this, U.S should urge its allies, while the UNurges Russia and China to prioritize the safety and security ofSyrian nationals over their political interests. Meanwhile, the U.Shomeland security authorities should continue monitoring Americancitizens returning from Syria to ensure that they were not recruitedby the al-Qaeda.
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