British and American naval vessels are currently preparing for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, following an alleged chemical attack by the regime against its own civilians, according to The Telegraph.
According to the paper, military commanders are currently drawing up a list of potential targets to strike, in a operation that would resemble the opening phase of the western intervention in Libya which helped oust Colonel Gaddafi.
In that operation, western forces used air and naval forces to back rebels fighters on the ground, but stopped short of sending “boots on the ground” of their own.
Talks between western leaders are still ongoing, but a potential military intervention involving a joint air and naval attack could potentially begin within a week, according to British government sources.
The report comes soon after British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu upped the ante by claiming United Nations approval was not necessarily needed for intervention to take place.
“Is it possible to act on chemical weapons, is it possible to respond to chemical weapons without complete unity on the UN Security Council?” Hague asked, rhetorically.
“I would argue, yes it is. Otherwise, of course, it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, such crimes and I don’t think that is an acceptable situation.”
Davutoglu was quoted by the newspaper Milliyetas as saying on Monday that Turkey “always prioritize[s] acting together with the international community, with United Nations decisions,” but insisted that “if such a decision doesn’t emerge from the UN Security Council, other alternatives … would come onto the agenda.”
As the war of words continues, Syrian President Assad has dismissed claims his forces used chemical weapons, countering that it was in fact rebel troops who used them.
Assad threatened that any western intervention would end in failure.
“The United States faces failure (if it attacks Syria), just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days,” he said.
Intervention in Syria would be more complex and potentially messy than the relatively smooth western intervention in Libya.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had succeeded in isolating himself from most potential allies, paving the way for widespread international support, or at the very least the absence of any meaningful objection, to military intervention. Syria, on the other hand, can count on the vetoes of Russia, and potentially China, in any UN Security Council vote on intervention.
But it is not just political support that the Assad regime is relying on. Apart from the stream of arms and ammunition provided by his Russian allies – including far more advanced weaponry than Gaddafi’s forces were able to field, and which could pose a greater challenge to western forces – he is also backed by the Iranian regime and its Lebanese proxies, Hezbollah, both of whom have a vested interest in preventing the establishment of a Sunni-dominated state that would effectively cut off Iran from its Lebanese allies.
Any western intervention would likely see the deaths of Iranian and Lebanese fighters, which could prompt an escalation in tensions between Tehran and the west.