Quite a bit of discussion has already taken place on the magnitude and the type of strike to conduct in Syria and the legal justification for it. Moreover, work also continues on forming an alliance and clarifying the US and western objectives for such an intervention. Nonetheless, this debate has opened more potholes than to bring about clarity. This was obvious in the British Parliament today, which voted against interference in Syria.
Irrespective of the ongoing argument, one thing is certain now: action will take place in the next couple of days. The critical question to ponder over is what will happen next, and if there will be a response. The scenarios that can play out range from simple to really complex.
It is quite possible that other than a few rhetorical statements, there is no reaction from Assad in the aftermath of the strike. After all, this has been his posture to the previous Israeli strikes with in Syria. This is especially true in case the missiles are used to target a limited number of military installations and the strike is seen as merely symbolic, as the debate presently suggests.
However, with non-state actors fully involved across the region, this scenario just looks too simplistic to digest. Even if Assad does not want to react, there are plenty of other players that would want to make something out of the opportunity at hand. Moreover, if the attack is seen as a stepping-stone towards a regime change, a response can be expected.
The Non-State Actors
It could come in the form of a chemical weapon attack against Israel, in a fashion similar to the one conducted in Syria last week. Israel has already pointed out it will react forcefully to any provocation of this sort. In the present chaos of Syria, it would be hard to nail down the source if this happened. From an Israeli perspective, the likely culprit would be Hezbollah. And, the reaction from Israel would be against the backer of both Syria and Hezbollah, Iran.
The cat and mouse game on how far Iran is from acquiring nuclear weapons has been raging for a while now. The above context provides ample pretext to tackle this aspect and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, NATO alliance could work on dealing with the Syrian chemical weapons and Al Qaeda linked groups, with the assistance of Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The Regional Angle
As this unfolds, it will be interesting to watch how Hamas and recently disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood (MB) elements respond; which can create a nightmare for interim government of Egypt and its military. This is perhaps one of the other reasons MB senior leaders are being arrested in Egypt. In all likelihood, the situation of Sinai will worsen further as Syrian situation deteriorates.
Subsequently, with the involvement of Hezbollah, another front could develop against Israel around the Syria-Lebanon-Jordan corridor. If not managed well, the situation can easily turn in to a Shia and Sunni non-state actors going at war with Israel, while they are also fighting each other. The other regional state actors are likely to be caught in the crossfire.
How much time this scenario may take to unravel is difficult to predict at this time. It will depend on the nature of initial strikes on Syria, and what follows. So, an ‘action-reaction’ dynamic is likely to play out. How Russia responds will also be a factor. However, Russian involvement and efforts are likely to be focused towards what emerges from the chaos.
Another variable to consider is the irredentist movement of Kurdistan. If the above scenario plays out, Kurds are likely to join hands with the West and will act to counter the non-state actors. Some of this is already at display in Syria where Kurds have clashed with AQ linked groups near the border with Turkey. Kurds obviously want to correct the mistakes of history.
In essence, there are two forces of change acting in the Middle East: the West and the non-state actors, while the Sunni state actors are striving to maintain the status quo. For all intents and purposes, the West appears to be in the midst of an intitive to reshape the Middle East so it no longer poses any threat to Israel, and at the same time protect its Sunni allies and energy supplies from the region. For this to happen, both Sunni and Shia non-state actors will have to be dealt with. While the West and NATO are aligned strictly with Sunni state actors, Russia and China have maintained ties across the Shia-Sunni divide, which gives them a definitive advantage in the present circumstances.