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More Trouble in the Eastern Mediterranean
YURI M. ZHUKOV is a Fellow with the Program on Global Society and Security at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and a Graduate Student Associate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.See more by this author
So far, public debate about the intervention in Syria has centered on the immediate scope and aims of any U.S.-led military operation, and whether the U.S. Congress should be involved. But no matter how the possible intervention and its aftermath play out, one thing is certain: the eastern Mediterranean -- where exploratory drilling has unearthed vast reserves of natural gas, and where competition over the rights to tap those resources is already fierce -- will become less stable.
For now, the least bad outcome seems to be a prolonged stalemate. And that is the most likely outcome, at least in the short term, if the United States indeed opts for limited military strikes. By definition, punitive cruise missile strikes seek to change an opponent's strategy without necessarily depleting that opponent’s capabilities. By raising the costs of bad behavior -- say, by damaging airstrips and bombing the presidential palace or other targets of value to the regime -- coercive air power is designed to make Assad’s generals think twice before contemplating indiscriminate tactics in the future. They would do little to end the war.
The regional implications of such a stalemate are not difficult to imagine, as they represent a continuation of the current state of affairs. With an average of over 100 reported fatalities per day, Syria would remain the most violent place on Earth. Sectarian fighting would continue to spill over into parts of Lebanon and Iraq. Refugee flows to Turkey and Jordan would continue. And Hezbollah and the al Qaeda–affiliated al-Nusra Front would be preoccupied with fighting each other rather than Israel or the United States, although they would gain valuable battlefield experience in the process.