The civil war in Syria has been going for 2 years now, and while there has been wide spread news coverage and international condemnation, no action has been taken by Western countries to intervene militarily on either side. However, recent Israeli airstrikes have potentially escalated the crisis.
Earlier this month Israel launched its second airstrike in 3 days targeting a shipment of extremely accurate guided Iranian-made missiles believed to be on their way to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group. Israel’s concern is clear – these Fatah 110 missiles have a very precise guidance system with better aim than anything Hezbollah has in its arsenal. In response, Syria stationed missile batteries aimed at Israel.
Some see this as a concerning threat to Middle East peace, should the escalation draw in other neighbouring nations into the conflict. Others welcome the strikes and wonder why the West, and in particular the US, refrain from intervening in kind, given Syria’s President Bashar Assad is in league with Hezbollah and Iran.
The frustration over Western inaction has grown with concerns that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on the opposition forces, though there has been no confirmation of these reports. US President Obama warned President Assad that deployment of chemical weapons by government forces would cross a ‘red line.’ While no proof of such has been obtained, however, United Nations investigators, through interviews with victims, doctors and field hospitals in neighbouring countries, have found strong, concrete suspicions that the opposition rebels have used the nerve agent, Sarin gas, against government forces.
It appears the current hesitation on the part of the West in intervening on the side of the rebels is the presence of Al Qaeda backed groups amongst them. Should the country fall into complete chaos and the government collapse, a clear concern would be the Al Qaeda’s access to weapons and further power in the region.
In the meantime, while these political concerns hamstring the West’s response, what the United Nations refugee agency is calling the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Cold War cries out to us for some response. Since the war began, some 70,000 lives have been lost and more than 1.3 million people have fled across the country’s borders, many of them into neighbouring Lebanon.
Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is full to the brim with Syrian refugees. Roger Hearn, Middle East Director of Save the Children, in a report on the ABC last week, claimed that Lebanon has become a flashpoint for this crisis. None of the aid agencies have enough to go around. The UN says it needs $1.5 billion to cope with the crisis and so far only around half of that money has been delivered.
And matters could get much worse. The battle for Damascus is yet to get underway in earnest. When it does, the number of new refugees is expected to take this crisis into another dimension and the risk it will destabilize countries like Lebanon will be much more severe. Lebanon does not have the infrastructure nor financial base to cope with the needs of the numbers of refugees that are now within its borders.
In Syria itself, with the conflict now entering its third year, 1 in 5 schools have been destroyed, damaged or converted into shelter for displaced families. Access to water stands at a third of what it was at the beginning of the crisis, and families are living in highly unsanitary conditions making children particularly vulnerable to water-borne diseases, acute respiratory infections and skin inflammation.
While a political solution is nowhere in sight, we can help at the level of financial aid to the UN in its response to the humanitarian crisis. You can donate to UNICEF by calling 1300 884 233, or by going to the UNICEF website. Alternatively you could donate to the Children Syria Crisis Appeal by contacting 1800 760 011.