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Syria Exerts its Influence

Samara Greenberg

In its meeting in Cairo on Wednesday, Arab League diplomats announced that the organization would oppose any form of foreign intervention in Libya and stressed the need to guarantee Libya’s territorial integrity. According to Syria’s Permanent Ambassador to the Arab League, Youssef Ahmad, Western intervention would not stem from a desire to protect the Libyan people but to protect Western interests and agendas in the region. The move was a Syrian initiative.

The U.S. still maintains that all options, including military intervention, remain on the table “so long as the Libyan government continues to turn its guns on its own people,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted on Tuesday. The U.S. has repositioned warships and aircraft closer to Libya over the last several days in an effort to increase pressure on the Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi. Western allies have also discussed imposing a no-fly zone on the country to halt Qaddafi’s aerial attacks against Libyans, although Russia, China, and Germany have suggested they would oppose the move.

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad

That Syria was the one to suggest the Arab League oppose foreign intervention in Libya is telling. Since Mubarak’s fall, Syria and its ally Iran – whose influence in the region was previously constrained by Egypt – have been flexing their muscles. After Iran sent ships through the Suez Canal for the first time since 1979, Tehran and Damascus signed an agreement stipulating a new cooperation on naval training. Russia also recently announced it will go ahead with plans to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, despite Israeli and U.S. concerns that the weapons may end up in Hezbollah’s hands.

As for the U.S., with the Arab League opposed to foreign intervention, there is little chance Washington will secure the international support it seeks if military intervention into Libya is decided as necessary, as it did during the first Gulf War. At that point, the White House would have to determine if angering the Arab World is worth saving Libyan lives.