President Obama said that since Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons against those rebelling against his regime, the United States will send weapons to help the rebels. Though sending ground-troops is not being considered, officials are reportedly considering implementing a no-fly zone, using American aircraft.
The United States is considering a no-fly zone in Syria, potentially its first direct intervention into the two-year-old civil war, Western diplomats said on Friday, after the White House said Syria had crossed a “red line” by using nerve gas.
After months of deliberation, President Barack Obama’s administration said on Thursday it would now arm rebels, having obtained proof the Syrian government used chemical weapons against fighters trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Two senior Western diplomats said Washington is looking into a limited no-fly zone close to Syria’s southern border with Jordan.
“Washington is considering a no-fly zone to help Assad’s opponents,” one diplomat said.
Imposing a no-fly zone could require the United States to destroy Syria’s sophisticated Russian-built air defenses, thrusting it into the war with the sort of action NATO used to help topple Muammar Gaddafi in Libya two years ago.
Washington says it has not excluded a no fly zone but a decision is not imminent.
“We have been clear that we are not excluding options but at this stage no decision has been taken,” said Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Obama’s incoming National Security Adviser.
“A no-fly zone … would carry with it great and open-ended costs for the United States and the international community. It’s far more complex to undertake the type of effort, for instance, in Syria than it was in Libya,” U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said on Thursday.
Any such move would also come up against a potential veto from Assad’s ally Russia in the U.N. Security Council. The Kremlin dismissed U.S. evidence of Assad’s use of nerve gas.
“I will say frankly that what was presented to us by the Americans does not look convincing,” President Vladimir Putin’s senior foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov said.
France said a no-fly zone would be impossible without U.N. Security Council authorization, which made it unlikely for now.
Nevertheless, Washington has quietly taken steps that would make it easier, moving Patriot surface-to-air missiles, war planes and more than 4,000 troops into Jordan, officially as part of an annual exercise in the past week but making clear that the assets could stay on when the war games are over.
Syria’s civil war grew out of protests that swept across the Arab world in 2011, becoming by far the deadliest of those uprisings and the most difficult to resolve, with powers across the Middle East squaring off on sectarian lines.
Western countries have spent the past two years demanding Assad leave power but declining to use force as they did in Libya, because of the far greater risk of fighting a much stronger country that straddles sectarian divides at the heart of the Middle East and is backed by Iran and Russia.
Just months ago, Western countries believed Assad’s days were numbered. But momentum on the battlefield has turned in his favor, making the prospect of his swift removal and an end to the bloodshed appear remote without outside intervention.
Some of the rebels are Islamist radicals. If we help them, do you think they will end their jihad against us? Do you think this “humanitarian” providing of weapons is a good idea? It won’t involve our ground troops, but a no-fly zone would have to be enforced by our pilots.