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US Syria intervention could help al Qaeda

Syria expert Günter Meyer warns of a US military intervention in Syria and says it would only strengthen al Qaeda's position in the war-torn country.

DW: What's the likelihood for a US military intervention in Syria at the moment?

Günter Meyer: A US military intervention is highly unlikely. That is apparent in President Barack Obama's very careful statements. On the other hand, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey has urgently warned about a military intervention. Even though it's possible to intervene right now, there is no exit strategy. The risk is very high that - once the regime has been toppled - power will fall to Islamists, namely al Qaeda fighters. After the Syrian army, they are by far the greatest military power in the country.

What form might a military intervention take?

The defense ministry wants to avoid putting soldiers on the ground by all means. Another option would be to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. But that can only be done if the UN agrees. It would require a lot of effort since all of Syria's air defenses would have to be destroyed. But Syria has been equipped with state-of-the-art missiles from the then Soviet Union. That is going to be a very complex mission that will cost several billions.

An easier solution that's been suggested would be to use missiles to destroy the Syrian army's airfields. That would indeed be a possibility, because fighter jets would no longer be able to land. But destroyed airstrips could also be quickly rebuilt. And such a mission would also require the UN's approval. But both Russia and China won't agree to that.

What would be the goal of a military intervention?

If a no-fly zone were actually to be implemented, that would mean a tremendous weakening of Bashar al-Assad's regime, because his military successes mainly depend on his complete sovereignty over Syrian air space. If that sovereignty is no longer intact due to landing strips being bombed, it will become harder for the regime to dominate over rebel fighters.

Günter Meyer (photo: Privat dpa)

Meyer says a no-fly zone over Syria would help in weakening Assad's regime

To what extent would a military intervention change the situation in Syria?

It would be very difficult indeed for the regime to stay in power. But there is a high risk that Russia would want to play a bigger role as well, and the risk that Iran will strike back, of course. Such an intervention could trigger a military conflagration in the region. It would also lead to a power vacuum that would be filled by those who are the strongest at the moment. And these are the members of al Qaeda. The opposition's success would not only lead to a bloodbath amongst Assad's followers, but also help in installing an Islamist caliphate in Syria - with the strongest concentration of al Qaeda in the world.

Would Syria's neighbors be affected as well?

The stronger the fights and the more regions involved, the higher the number of refugees in the neighboring states.

What's the position of US citizens in terms of a possible military intervention?

US media are to a large extent controlled by the Republicans. They push for a deployment of troops in Syria to highlight US power and its responsibility as a hegemonic power.

And how is the situation perceived by Syrians?

They are divided. For one, there are those Syrian citizens who still support the regime. On the other hand, the majority of Syrians are against it. They would be in favor of an intervention. And then there are the rebel fighters who have lost their enthusiasm for the cause to some extent, since al Qaeda became a strong opposition force.

Günter Meyer is a professor of economics and social geography at the University of Mainz. He also heads the Center for Research on the Arab World.

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