Why Syria Won’t Get the Libya Treatment From the West
One year ago, On March 19, 2011, Western leaders, alarmed by the disaster unfolding in Libya, voted in the U.N. Security Council to intervene militarily with “all necessary means,” arguing that they could not stand by and watch civilians get massacred. As a result of the U.N. resolution, NATO launched a bombing campaign, led by Britain, France and the U.S., and flew about 10,000 bombing sorties over Libya, helping to obliterate Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship in just seven months.
So, could it happen in Syria? Probably not, according to two reports out on Monday. Both suggest that the Western powers would face significantly bigger challenges in intervening against President Bashar Assad, both politically and militarily, than they did in Libya. Says the British military think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in a report marking the anniversary of the U.N. vote, “The Libya intervention took place in a singularly unique moment where the international stars, as it were, were aligned in a set of propitious circumstances.”
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Unlike Gaddafi, Assad has hugely upgraded his air and sea attack capabilities since the revolt against him erupted a year ago, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks the opaque defense industry. In its yearly report on global arms transfers, also to be published on Monday, SIPRI lists billions spent by Assad on state-of-the-art Russian systems, much of which has been delivered during the past year. “This is a major upgrade,” says Paul Holtom, SIPRI senior researcher on arms transfers. “Any discussions about an air attack on Syria would be more challenging than it would have been previously.”
Last year, Russia delivered as many as 36 Pantsyr-SI anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, according to SIPRI. Lightweight and mobile, the medium-range missiles can be mounted on the back of trucks, making them difficult for combat jets to target. In addition, the organization believes Russia has recently delivered upgraded versions of the MIG-29 combat aircraft to Syria. And it has upgraded hundreds of T-72 tanks every year since 2007, fitting them with far more modern weapons; in recent weeks, opposition activists in the besieged city of Homs filmed video footage showing T-72 tanks in action during the assault on the city.
Aside from the Pantsyr, Russia also sent Syria other modern anti-aircraft missiles last year, including about 40 SA-17 Grizzly missiles and two medium-range SA-17 Buk systems, according to SIPRI. And despite the worlds outrage over Assad’s crackdown, Assad announced a $550-million deal with Russia in January, for 36 light training and combat aircraft called Yak-130.