Syria has been around since ancient times, with its capital of Damascus considered to be among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is the site of a number of ancient empires and kingdoms, including the Eblan civilization that existed during the third millennium B.C.
The current state was established as a French mandate right after World War I. It was the largest Arab state to come out from the old Arab Levant that was ruled under the Ottoman Empire. In 1946, just after World War II, it finally achieved its independence and it became a parliamentary republic. A series of coup attempts saw the Ba’ ath Party take control in 1963, with the Assad family assuming the presidency in 1971.
The Arab Spring
In 2010, dissatisfaction in the Arab world finally came to a boil that resulted in the Arab Spring. The reasons were wide and extreme, including the following:
- Issues on dictatorship or absolute monarchy
- Human rights violations
- Political corruption
- Economic decline
- Rising unemployment
- Extreme poverty
- Concentration of wealth in the hands of the autocrats that have been in power for several years or decades already
- Insufficient or lack of transparency in redistribution of wealth
- Refusal of the youth to accept the status quo
- Increasing food prices
Some of the events that influenced the Arab Spring include the widespread electoral protests in Iran from 2009 to 2010, and the Kyrgyz Revolution of 2010.
The first to experience major uprisings were the African countries of Tunisia and Egypt. The protests there were considered as major successes, as it forced out those who were in power. Eventually, the success of the protests was also experienced in Libya and Yemen.
There was also a civil uprising in Bahrain, as well as major protests in the following countries:
There were also minor protests held in other Arab countries, including the following:
- Saudi Arabia
The Crisis in Syria
The Arab Spring came to Syria in March of 2011 when anti government demonstrations broke out. By the following month, the protests had spread around the country. Marchers were demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and the end of the rule of the Ba’ ath Party.
The government responded by deploying the Syrian Army, which tried to stop the protests by firing on the demonstrators. Eventually, the protests grew into open armed rebellion. There were clashes being reported in cities and towns all over the country, as some soldiers defected and joined up with civilian volunteers in fighting the government.
Eventually, the conflict spread and attracted support and condemnation internationally. Russia, Iran, the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, have all come out in support of the Syrian government. Iran’s support is a result of the Assads being Alawites, a branch of Shiite Muslim of which most of Iran adheres to.
The rebels, on the other hand, have the support of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Al Qaeda operative called the Al Nusra Front. This is why the war can get messy, as it may end up with the Al Qaeda supporting the same side as its sworn enemy, the United States.
The United States, however, is not a big fan of the Assads as well. In the past, Syria was considered in the same league as Iran and Libya, with the U.S. accusing it of supporting terrorist groups. With Assad using chemical weapons against his own people, talks have been rife of an attack on the Syrian government.
The Russian government is trying to come up with alternatives to an attack, like pressuring the Syrian government to give up its stockpile of chemical weapons to avoid foreign military intervention. The Americans are open to the idea as they are not really keen on attacking a country that has no significant oil resource anyway. Besides, taking out Assad might result in an Al Qaeda ally gaining more power.
How Much Will It Cost?
The Americans are wary of war as well. President Barack Obama was elected into office on the back of a promise of getting out of Iraq. That war that was started by former President George W. Bush on false pretenses has already cost the U.S. government more than $814 billion.
The Americans are also still trying to wrap up its business in Afghanistan, which has already cost them $653 billion. Its six-month intervention during the crisis in Libya in 2011 took up $1.1 billion.
In case a war erupts in Syria, President Obama has already promised that there would be no ground troops involved and that forces would remain outside the Syrian’s ability to strike back. This means that Tomahawk missiles would be used, as well as American aircrafts firing missiles from beyond Syrian airspace.
Tomahawk missiles costs around $1.5 million each. In Libya, 110 such missiles were used in the first day alone. Given that rate, that’s $165 million for the Tomahawk’s first day alone. Ships and salaries are basically already paid for, so there will only be an incremental increase in the tens of millions to operate the vessels outside of its routine area and schedule.
Getting involved in Syria would also mean the need to train, advise and assist the rebels. The starting cost for this is already $500 million, depending on the size of the rebel units.
A no-fly zone must also be established. Cost is estimated to be $500 million for starters, and around $1 billion a month to maintain. Syrian air defenses must be destroyed, airfields bombed and enemy planes must be shot down. Analysts estimate the need for 180 aircrafts, conducting 192 sorties each day. Also needed are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft to provide targeting data; tankers for in-flight refueling; airborne early warning and control aircraft to direct and deconflict sorties; and additional SEAD and electronic warfare aircraft such as EA-18G Growlers and F-16CJs to protect strike and support aircraft from Syrian strategic surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft guns and man-portable air defenses. This would bring daily sorties to 200.
While the President has promised no ground troop involvement, the fact is it is needed to ensure chemical weapons are controlled. Not all the weapons will be secured and analyst estimate another $1 billion is needed per month to conduct this operation.
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