Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute warned that the war in Syria has begun to spill over and is rapidly destabilizing the Levant at a discussion on Capitol Hill Friday.
“Syria isn’t like Vegas: What happens in Syria doesn’t stay in Syria,” Tabler said.
Cross-border fighting has increased significantly in Jordan, Turkey, and Israel and is only poised to continue, Tabler said.
His remarks come as the total deaths in Syria have surpassed 100,000. Tabler noted these numbers were as high as the casualties amassed during the Bosnian conflict “in half the time.”
Aug. 18 also marks the second anniversary of President Barack Obama’s remarks demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step aside.
Assad still remains in power over large swathes of Syria, recently gaining tactical victories with the help of Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah and the use of small doses of Sarin gas.
“Hezbollah is all in … and is participating in an unprecedented role,” Tabler said.
Tabler addressed the use of the gas and the crossing of the Obama administration’s “red line.” He acknowledged the difficulty of detecting the gas because of its ability to dissipate rapidly and the fact that the United Nations assessment team has only been granted access to one site in Aleppo.
On al Qaeda affiliates in Syria, Tabler said, “These groups are not the majority … they are just the best funded and best supported.”
Tabler said this is in part due to the lack of oversight required to fund groups like al-Nusra. They merely rely on large deposits of cash with no “end user agreements,” Tabler joked.
Tabler compared the dissolution of Syria as reminiscent of the sectarian fracturing of Yugoslavia but added that the end result will most likely end up looking like Somalia with “large swathes of ungoverned territory.”
Tabler’s suggestions to remedy the situation began with “enforcing red lines” and arming the rebels effectively.
“Diplomacy is at the end of this,” Tabler said.
Tabler said that precise oversight is needed in arming the rebels and that safe zones enforced by either the United States or its allies need to be set up within Syria for the growing numbers of refugees.
“[Refugees] are at Bosnian levels,” Tabler said referring to the Bosnian Serb refugees displaced in the mid 90s.
Tabler also interpreted remarks from the State Department earlier this week admitting that Assad might control “some” parts of Syria means the administration “has accepted that Syria has disintegrated as a de-facto state … and that [their] objectives will not be achieved during this presidency.”
“This has not been contained … this is full on war and requires more assertiveness from the U.S. to control,” Tabler said.