A second step worth serious consideration is to secure international support for a coalition air operation. Russia will never support such a mission, so there is no point operating through the U.N. Security Council. And given the reluctance of some European states, NATO may be difficult as well. Therefore, this operation will have to be a unique combination of Western and Middle East countries. Given Syria's extreme isolation within the Arab League, it should be possible to gain strong support from most Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. U.S. leadership is indispensable, since most of the key countries will follow only if Washington leads.
Some worry that U.S. involvement risks a confrontation with Russia. However, the Kosovo example -- where NATO went to war against another Russian ally, while Moscow did little more than complain -- shows otherwise. In that case, Russia had genuine ethnic and political ties to the Serbs, which don't exist between Russia and Syria. Managing Russia's reaction to outside intervention will be difficult but should not be exaggerated.
Arming the Syrian opposition and creating a coalition air force to support them is a low-cost, high-payoff approach. Whether an air operation should just create a no-fly zone that grounds the regimes' aircraft and helicopters or actually conduct air to ground attacks on Syrian tanks and artillery should be the subject of immediate military planning. And as Barak, the Israeli defense minister, also noted, Syria's air defenses may be better than Libya's but they are no match for a modern air force.
The larger point is that as long as Washington stays firm that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed, à la Kosovo and Libya, the cost to the United States will be limited. Victory may not come quickly or easily, but it will come. And the payoff will be substantial. Iran would be strategically isolated, unable to exert its influence in the Middle East. The resulting regime in Syria will likely regard the United States as more friend than enemy. Washington would gain substantial recognition as fighting for the people in the Arab world, not the corrupt regimes.
With the Islamic Republic deprived of its gateway to the Arab world, the Israelis' rationale for a bolt from the blue attack on its nuclear facilities would diminish. A new Syrian regime might eventually even resume the frozen peace talks regarding the Golan Heights.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah would be cut off from its Iranian sponsor, since Syria would no longer be a transit point for Iranian training, assistance, and missiles. All these strategic benefits combined with the moral purpose of saving tens of thousands of civilians from murder at the hands of the Assad regime -- some 12,000 have already been killed, according to activists -- make intervention in Syria a calculated risk, but still a risk worth taking.
With the veil of fear now lifted, the Syrian people are determined to fight for their freedom. America can and should help them -- and by doing so help Israel and help reduce the risk of a far more dangerous war between Israel and Iran.