US Attack On Syria: Assessing The Regional Fallout

BMI View: A US-led coalition is likely to strike Syria over the coming days or weeks. Our core view sees the West only a modest campaign, with limited consequences for regional stability. That said, we cannot exclude that a more protracted US involvement could ensue. Under such scenario, risks of a civil war in Lebanon and Iraq could increase significantly, while Israel and Jordan would be increasingly vulnerable to retaliation. Although Iran's options to counteract an attack are limited, relations with the West could deteriorate further.

A military attack by the US and its allies on Syria over the coming days or weeks is highly likely, owing to Damascus' alleged responsibility for a major chemical attack in which hundreds of people were reported to have been killed on 21 August. Although UN inspectors on the ground have yet to confirm culpability for the attack, while the Syrian government has denied responsibility, the US appears certain that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime carried out the strikes. US President Barack Obama has long maintained that the use of chemical weapons by the regime would constitute a 'red line' that could trigger American intervention, and Washington appears to have little choice but to respond militarily. Such scenario is likely to play out even as the UK, a key US ally, will not be able to take part in the operation, as the British parliament failed on August 29 to pass a motion that would have authorised military action against Syria. Indeed, the US Navy is re-positioning several vessels, including four cruise missile-carrying destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean and probably a missile-firing submarine. If more firepower is needed, two US aircraft carriers could launch air strikes, while land bases in Turkey and Cyprus might also be used. French air power could also play a part.

The US has been emphasising that any military strike against Syria would be limited in scope. This cautious rhetoric appears designed to reassure American voters, and allied Middle Eastern governments, that Washington does not intend to get drawn into another multi-month air campaign as seen in Libya in 2011 and Yugoslavia in 1999, let alone a multi-year ground war as seen in Afghanistan (2001- present) and Iraq (2003-2011). From our point of view, the US's planned 'limited' strike is the safest course of action for Washington. Our core view sees a US-led coalition - supported by Turkey and other regional actors - undertaking a modest attack of precision missile and airstrikes against Syrian military targets, primarily intended to demonstrate the Western powers' willingness and ability to act if 'red lines' are crossed, as well as deter the future use of chemical munitions by Damascus. In our view, a small scale attack would not fundamentally change the course of the civil war in Syria, nor significantly hinder the regime's military capabilities. In addition, we believe that the safest Syrian response would be to avoid military retaliation, which could prompt more forceful attacks from the US and potentially degrade Syria's military capabilities further. Under our core scenario, the regional fall out would be relatively limited. The influx of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries could increase, putting significant pressure on Lebanon and Jordan in particular. Tourism in the region will be hit hard, and diplomatic relations between the West and Iran and Russia, two key allies of Syria, would likely worsen.

Political Risk Could Further Increase
MENA - Short-term and Long-term Political Risk Rating, Out of 100

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