‘West must think twice about Syrian military invasion’

The international community must carefully consider the military operation in Syria even if the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces is confirmed as an intervention has many pitfalls, Stephen Zunes, Middle East expert, told RT.

Britain has echoed the claims coming from the US, saying it has growing evidence Syrian government troops have used chemical weapons.

With London announcing it's extremely serious, and US President Obama warning that proof of Syrian chemical weapons’ use would be a “game changer”

Meanwhile, the government of Bashar Assad remains resolute that its army has never used such weapons, blaming the rebels for a chemical attack of their own near Aleppo this March.

Politics and International Studies Professor at the University of San Francisco, Stephen Zunes, believes that claims against the rebels would most likely be ignored as an objective approach would hamper Western plans for Syria.

RT: For some time Washington's been urged to act in Syria from quite a few sides, do you think these new allegations will be a turning point?

Stephen Zunes: It’s possible. There’s certainly a lot of pressure on the Obama administration, not just from the Republicans in Congress, but from some of more hawkish democrats as well – some of the very people, whose claims about the Iraqi chemical weapons and related military power that led to Iraq war. So, there’s a lot of pressure. The Obama administration has taken a relatively cautious approach, trying to get more evidence. But, certainly, the war drums are beating louder than they were just a few days ago.   

In this image made available by the Syrian News Agency (SANA) on March 19, 2013, medics and other masked people attend to a man at a hospital in Khan al-Assal in the northern Aleppo province, as Syria's government accused rebel forces of using chemical weapons for the first time. (AFP Photo / SANA)

RT: The rhetoric around the use of chemical weapons sounds very similar to the lead up to the invasion of Iraq 10 years ago. Shouldn't one exercise caution before opening the floodgates?

SZ: Definitely, there needs to be caution. There needs to be some major investigation, but even if it’s verified that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, including sarin, in a couple of cases. That’s a serious issue for the international community to be concerned about. But people need to think hard and fast whether military intervention is the correct way to respond. There are many serious pitfalls of any kind of intervention, not just in terms of fighting the war, of human loss – that’s, actually, hardening the position of the Syrian government and bolding the rebels in ways that could support some of the more extremist elements within their ranks. There’s a whole lot of issues that need to be considered even if the reports of the use of chemical weapons are verified.   

RT: The Syrian opposition is now urging the US to act in accordance with the 'Red Line'. But won't counter allegations of Syrian rebels having used chemical weapons change that rhetoric? Why weren’t they investigated by the UN?

SZ: Well, there have been efforts to try to bring the UN observers into Syria, both for checking out the chemical weapons questions as well as broader human rights abuses by both sides. They’ve been unable to do so, so far. The initial allegations of use by rebels seem to, actually, have some validity. I don’t know. But, obviously, you know many governments would like to see the Syrian regime fall. And indeed many Syrians would like to see the Syrian regime fall. They’re embarrassed, you might say, by some of the more extremist elements that have made their way into the rebels’ ranks and some of the tactic they’ve been using – ranging from car bombs to possible chemical weapons. There’s obviously a desire not to highlight that piece so far, or hide that piece even if there might have been some validity to the charges.