Syrian troops fired into peaceful demonstrations in Hama and Homs on Friday. Repression of protests yesterday is estimated to have cost 40 lives. The BBC reports that some demonstrators are calling for a “no-fly zone” imposed by the international community on Syria. (The BBC video shows a sign demanding a hazr jawwi or aerial curfew.)
This wish for outside intervention on the part of some street protesters contrasts with the position of the opposition Syrian National Council, which has steadfastly rejected foreign meddling in Syria
There are many reasons for which the protesters will not get their wish for a no-fly zone over Syria.
Most important, a no-fly zone is not a practical response to the Baath government’s repression. On Friday, troops just shot into the crowds. Unlike Qaddafi, Bashar al-Assad is not bombing his cities with jets from the air. Nor are helicopter gunships or tank units central to the coercive abilities of the Syrian state. Syrian geography is complex, and plinking tanks from the air is not an option in Syria.
A further consideration is that Syria is in conflict with Israel, and taking out its anti-aircraft abilities would so weaken it as to encourage Israeli adventurism. Libya was not at war with its neighbors this spring and summer and so an intervention there did not upset regional balances of power.
There is no Arab League resolution urging intervention in Syria. There is no United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing war. In the absence of a UNSC resolution, any attack on Syria would be considered an act of aggression and could open US politicians and military men to prosecution in international courts.
Russia and China are against Western intervention, which dooms any condemnatory resolution at the UN security council. In international law since 1945, especially in the UN charter, the only grounds for going to war are self-defense or as a result of a UNSC resolution. Neither obtains in Syria and any foreign intervention would therefore be illegal, and the pilots could be tried in international courts.
It breaks my heart to say all this. The youth of Syria is being cold-bloodedly shot down by army snipers. You wish there was a way to stop it. But there isn’t. There isn’t a practical set of military tactics outsiders could deploy effectively in this situation. There is no international framework of legality for an intervention.
But it should be remembered that the political wing of the Syrian opposition in any case does not want such an intervention, and that most Syrians are determined to go it alone. They want to do what the Tunisians and Egyptians did. They should be given a chance, since that would be the best outcome possible.