Greece and the Syria operation

The Syrian crisis has become an issue of intense debate between US-friendly forces in Greece and those opposed to any form of involvement in action launched by our allies against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Of course there is no question of Greece having an active role. Its involvement will be confined to allowing the use by the United States of the Souda Bay navy base on Crete and the air base at Kalamata in the southern Peloponnese. The agreement for the removal of US military bases from Greek territory co-signed by Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s may have foreseen the right of the Greek government to be “informed” about certain activities, but it would be naive to expect that it can demand to see the US Air Force’s flight plans or movements.

Non-involvement in the affairs of third countries, such as Syria, is certainly the wisest option in theory, but if it means upsetting relations with allies such as the United States, it is nothing short of folly. And let us not forget that the US used Greek bases during its intervention in Iraq in 2003 against Saddam Hussein, without having to report to Athens about its movements.

Greece is too small and weak to take a leading role in the region and this is even more so when allied relations are at stake. The best thing it can do right now is watch developments unfold.

Beyond the Greek angle, the planned intervention in Syria by the US, the United Kingdom and France is proving to be a political hot potato, as crushing Assad’s regime may lead to the victory not of the “moderate” opposition but of the Islamist extremists.

The objective of the three Western nations is to thwart a triumph by Assad, which has become more likely in recent weeks following several victories by the regime. The mistake, of course, was using chemical weapons at a time when things appeared to be going well for government forces.

But because the Western powers are clearly in favor of Assad’s removal and Washington has stated that the use of chemical weapons is crossing the red line, the intervention will most likely go ahead.

It is unlikely that the intervention will ultimately contribute toward a solution to the Syrian problem. It will rather create more tension with other countries in the region. How Moscow will react to a strike on its only ally in the Middle East will also be of interest.

But the main fact is that an operation with limited goals, and without there being a clear successor if and when Assad falls, is a very risky proposition.