Syria: what can be done?

1. Full-scale military intervention?

Abdel Bari Atwan I am opposed to military intervention by the west. Syria is not Libya, the army is well-armed and equipped with sophisticated weaponry. We would witness catastrophic civilian casualties. We have already seen the disasters caused by such intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the dangers of an internationalisation of the conflict are too great, with Russia, Iran and possibly China standing with Syria and Hezbollah against Nato and Israel. Such action would need a UN resolution which is clearly not forthcoming given Russia and China vetoed the last attempt to condemn Assad.

Michael Weiss A "full-scale intervention" needs to be properly defined first. Does that mean a US ground assault into Damascus? Occupation? Frankly, I don't know anyone in the pro-intervention camp who advocates such a plan. However, we should be clear about the aim of any use of force in Syria at this stage: this will only end with the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power, as that is now the stated policy of western governments, Turkey and the Arab League.

Seumas Milne A direct invasion of Syria to topple the regime would be another disaster on the Iraq or Afghanistan model, lead to a catastrophic loss of life, trigger a long-running guerrilla war, draw in armed groups from neighbouring states and Iran against another western military occupation of an Arab, Muslim state. Fortunately, there is currently no significant support for such a course.

Shashank Joshi Full-fledged military intervention in Syria would have neither legal sanction nor Russian or Chinese approval, and would therefore shred our co-operation with those countries on issues of national concern – from the Iranian nuclear programme to withdrawal from Afghanistan. Syria's opposition is far weaker than Libya's, faces a military eight times larger than Gaddafi's, has no Benghazi equivalent as a safe haven and remains nationally unco-ordinated. Iran would relish the opportunity to bog down western forces. We would face years of inconclusive urban warfare against a stiff loyalist resistance that enjoyed safe havens in Lebanon and, somewhat ironically, Iraq.

Mehdi Hasan I want Bashar al-Assad out – as all democrats and internationalists should. But a full-scale, foreign military intervention isn't the way – and could prove to be a moral and political catastrophe. Dropping bombs from 5,000ft would guarantee further civilian casualties and rally some anti-Assad Syrians behind the regime. Military action might salve our consciences but it won't stop the violence and it isn't what most Syrians want. It would also – like Iraq, but unlike Libya – be illegal and lack legitimacy.

2. Safe zones and humanitarian corridor?

Abdel Bari Atwan These would need to be policed either by air or troops on the ground. Syria would interpret this as a declaration of war and would certainly attack. Assad would not want to provide shelter for defectors and opposition leaders either. Again, this risks escalation.

Michael Weiss I'd advocate the creation of a safe zone in Syria, backed by appropriate air cover, because it would create not only a humanitarian refuge for Syrian civilians, but also a much-needed base of operations for the atomised opposition. What the rebels need, and what the US, Europe and Turkey can provide, is their own Benghazi, to close ranks and map a viable strategy. Otherwise they will be no match for a regime equipped with tanks and fighter jets, backed by the IRGC (Iran's Revolutionary Guards) and Hezbollah mercenaries, and Russian materiel. The Syrian army is down to about 300,000 troops, three-quarters of which never leave the barracks for fear of their defection. If those deployed realise they're now up against western aircraft and Turkish soldiers, many will likely abandon the fight altogether or join the other side – which is not to say, of course, that Assad will not still command a loyalist hardcore.

Abdel al-Bari Atwan is the editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. Michael Weiss is the executive director of Just Journalism, a London-based thinktank that monitors how the British media cover Israel and the Middle East. Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor. Shashank Joshi is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.  Mehdi Hasan is senior editor (politics) at the New Statesman.

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