But, will a regime change in Syria ensure that Hezbollah's supply lines are cut? Iraq falls between Syria and Iran and despite being a US ally it has not been able or willing to even check Iranian flights supposedly supplying Iranian arms to Syria. John Kerry chided Nuri al-Maliki's government over Iranian flights when he visited Iraq in March this year. Read Aljazeera’s report on it.
Whether or not it breaks the Shia arc, most critics agree that the end of the Alawite rule will be followed by years of chaos and mayhem. Are then the potential strategic gains worth the risk? Some insist that Israel, and by extension the US want to have 'controlled chaos' on the other side of its concrete fence. But then, there is little doubt that this chaos will breed more violence and extremism. Moreover, Israel has been surviving next door to the Alawites since the 1970 and in fact, the present period is the only time in its history when it felt least threatened by its almost dormant neighbor. Israel has anyways successfully insulated and fortified itself from its neighbors. Why would Israel want to upset the cart in Syria, especially when its results are unpredictable?
I am, however, not negating that the realignment of power in the region that will be followed by the fall of the Assad regime will have no gainers and losers but I do not see any major shifts and certainly not the ones that could justify a major and risky military undertaking. My question thus remains, what is driving the US assault on Syria?
The war industry case:
The US war industry wants to expel its competitor, Russia from the lucrative Middle Eastern market.
Wars are supplied services, weapons and ammunition by an industry that treads on a demand-supply balance, like all other industries do. The world spent a whopping $1,756 billion on its militaries in 2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which is a reputed global watchdog on military and armament, working since 1968. The size of the war industry in each country is generally proportionate to its spending on its military. The US thus tops the list. Of the world’s 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies for 2011 (the SIPRI top 100 list), 44 were based in the US. The major client of these companies is their own military. Read about the top 10 weapons companies of 2011 here.
These companies also trade their products internationally, following the policies of their home country governments. SIPRI reports, in its 2013 Yearbook that the global arms trade was worth at least $43 billion in 2011 and more than half of this was done by just two countries, the US and Russia. The share of US companies stood at 30 per cent while Russia occupied second position with a 26 per cent share.
However, the future outlook for this industry is not quite rosy. SIPRI noted a decrease in world military expenditure in the past year. The US in particular, and Europe and the rest of the world in general, faced a major financial crisis in 2008, which the critics compare with the Great Depression of 1930s that was followed by World War II. The crisis has substantially reduced fiscal space for the governments forcing them to cut spending and go for austerity measures. The governments' choices in reducing expenses are constrained by their politics - cuts in social welfare are not popular among their electorates, while they don't mind reductions in military expenses.
The total global military expenditure thus fell in 2012, in real terms compared with 2011, and this is the first fall since 1998. More important, however, is regional breakup. The world's single largest military budget, that of the US, amounting to over $700 billion or 40 per cent of the world total, saw a substantial decrease of 5.5 per cent and that of Central and Western Europe shrank by 1.6 per cent. SIPRI notes that in other regions that did register growth like South Asia, "there was a major slowdown in the growth rate". The only exceptions are the Middle East and North Africa that recorded a very impressive growth of 8.3 and 7.8 per cent respectively. The two regions collectively spent $ 154.4 billion on their militaries in 2012. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the top 10 arms importers of the world for the five-year period 2008-12.
The business of the big armament companies is constrained at home and their future prospects are bleak. Their governments are worried too as this industry employs millions of people.
"Individual companies are taking steps to insulate themselves against austerity measures through military specialisation, downsizing, diversification, and exports and other forms of internationalisation. In some cases, company subsidiaries have maintained or increased arms and military services sales outside of the countries in which the parent companies are headquartered," says SIPRI.