Syria missile strike: What would happen next?

Story highlights

A missile strike could worsen the war and usher in new problems

"Supporting the opposition at this point would be like French-kissing al Qaeda," analyst says

Hezbollah could attack Israel in retaliation, analysts say

Iran could sponsor attacks against Western assets, analyst says

CNN  — 

As the United States weighs possible military strikes on Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack, it has to consider a critical question: then what?

A broad cross-section of experts on the region agree: A missile strike could worsen the war in Syria and usher in a host of new problems.

“The key issue is not the tactics of the strikes, but the strategic aftermath,” says Anthony Cordesman, a former Defense Department official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Read the U.S. government’s assessment of Syria

Most experts believe a strike would target the Syrian regime’s weapons arsenal – not suspected sites of chemical weapons stockpiles. The latter would be “the worst possible option,” and could spread chemicals downwind, says Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the British military’s chemical defense regiment.

U.S. officials have said strikes on command bunkers, airfields or the artillery batteries and rocket launchers used to fire chemical projectiles are among the possibilities being considered.

CNN asked analysts to discuss what could follow.

Al Qaeda, extremists emboldened?

“A limited attack could suppress morale among regime forces and encourage defections and splits,” says Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The opposition would be emboldened – including the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, analysts say.

“Supporting the opposition at this point would be like French-kissing al Qaeda,” says Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official now with the American Enterprise Institute. “If the opposition wins, al Qaeda will win power.”

“There is a real risk that destabilizing the Assad regime could enable the jihadist and al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups,” agrees Erica Borghard, author of the policy analysis “Arms and Influence in Syria: The Pitfalls of Greater U.S. Involvement.”

“These groups are militarily more capable than the rebels currently receiving U.S. support. “

It would be difficult for the United States to target al-Nusra infrastructure as part of a missile strike campaign because al-Nusra does not operate with clear “command-and-control assets” like the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Borghard says.

What do Syria’s neighbors think of potential Western strikes?