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September 18, 2013

Syria Weapons Deal Could Change Dynamic of War

by Meredith Buel

Middle East analysts say the agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons is a potential game-changer in the bloody civil war.

The chemical weapons deal has not lessened the furious fighting in Syria’s civil war. Analysts say it will have long-term consequences, though, bolstering President Bashar al-Assad, while infuriating rebels trying to oust him.

Steven Bucci, who directs foreign policy studies at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, said, “On the ground, the resistance forces are probably the losers in this, and Bashar al-Assad is clearly the winner. He has now gotten some cover and credibility both from Russia and now from the rest of the international community.”

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, President Barack Obama disagreed. “It is hard to envision how Mr. Assad regains any kind of legitimacy after he has gassed or his military has gassed innocent civilians and children.”

The agreement removes the immediate possibility of an American military strike because Assad said he now will give up his chemical weapons.

Rebels who hoped to regain momentum believe they now are facing the likelihood of a government escalation.

The biggest group of rebel fighters is led by General Salim Idris, who said, “We think that the Russians and the Syrian regime are playing games to waste time and to win time for the criminal regime in Damascus.”

Analysts say the deal elevates Russian President Vladimir Putin's standing internationally, while Moscow continues to provide Damascus with weapons.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said, “Russia has raised its strategic profile. It is on a level with the United States in terms of importance in determining the affairs of the Middle East.”

Shaikh said that could affect America's influence in the region. “President Obama himself may well be projecting a more weaker presidency for having not taken the action he said he would take.”

So while Assad holds court in his palace, human rights groups say his forces kill at an alarming rate.  

“I would say he is good for at least a year, year-and-a-half, which is sad because he is a horrific dictator and he has been doing terrible things to the Syrian people and they deserve better than that,” said Bucci.

So while chemical weapons may be taken off the battlefield, conventional weapons will continue to claim a deadly toll as the war in Syria grinds on.