Tuesday, 5 March 2013

SYRIA: ''Helping the Opposition'': How far the West and US can go?

The United States has repeatedly expressed its reluctance to provide Syria's armed opposition with weapons, due to the fear that they will fall into the hands of extremists groups.

At last  week's meeting in Rome, the U.S. government promised only to provide non-lethal support. ''It's time for Washington and the international community to reconsider, because the only way to prevent the rise of warlords and extremist groups is to support the organized Syrian opposition in professionalizing the armed revolution, said the US secretary of States, John Kerry''.

He did not say how much aid, but did announce that the United States would separately give $60 million to local groups working with the opposition Syrian National Council to provide political administration and basic services in rebel-controlled areas of Syria.

At the same time, European nations began to explore how to strengthen rebel fighters short of arming them after a European Council decision allowing aid for civilian protection.

Officially, the statement released by Brussels last week on the European Union's amended sanctions against Syria referred merely to supplying rebel fighters with "non-lethal military equipment" and "technical assistance for the protection of civilians."

But internal discussions indicate that this assistance also includes weapons training for opposition troops in their ongoing conflict with soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Brussels believes that Britain and possibly also France will deploy military consultants.

Ultimately, the support might not end there. While the West has thus far refused to supply arms to rebel fighters in Syria, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Sunday that Britain did not rule out providing arms to Syrian rebels in the future, although a new aid package set to be announced this week will consist only of non-lethal assistance.

While the allies of the Syrian armed opposition have pledged little more than cautious words, the allies of the Syrian regime supply Bashar al-Assad with a steady stream of military support and are preparing to defend at all costs the Syrian regime.  A high-ranking Iranian cleric, while giving a speech to the Basij paramilitary force, recently referred to Syria as Iran's "35th province," and called for forming Special Forces trained in urban warfare to ensure Assad remains in power.

Reports from the western city of Qusayr show that Hezbollah guerrillas already control eight villages and are moving toward controlling two more. Hezbollah has not made a secret out of its intervention: Its TV station, al-Manar, reported that 14 Hezbollah fighters were killed in Syria "while carrying out their Islamic duties."

Russia meanwhile said that decisions made at the Friends of Syria meeting will intensify the two-year Syrian conflict by encouraging rebel extremists. The aid announced ''in spirit and in letter directly encourage extremists to seize power by force, despite the inevitable sufferings of ordinary Syrians that entails.''

The shift in policy has drawn harsh criticism from several diplomats. Even though the West and US would like to believe that in arming the rebels, they are indeed making friends for the post-Assad Syria, fears that arms could end up in the wrong hands cannot be ruled out.

Politics plays a key role, especially with the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf states, which tend to regard the pro-democracy demands of the Arab Awakening “as part of a subversive Shia agenda” to weaken their rule. By training and arming the rebels, the West and US will be investing in  the rise in Sunni-Shia sectarian violence and where this religious and political competition may be leading the region.

In Arab countries, there has been renewed anti-Shia violence in Iraq, mostly indiscriminate car bombings aimed at civilians by Sunni insurgents with Al Qaeda links. And in Bahrain, the Sunni-dominated monarchy continues to forcibly repress street protests by the Shia community. In both countries, Shia are a majority of the population.

By contrast, the Shia-related Alawites in Syria are a minority group. But for five decades they have dominated the country’s political and military establishments under the leadership of the Alawite family of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The current battle in Syria is driven by many factors, including a desire to escape repression and poverty. But the majority Sunni population also wants to rid itself of rule by what it views as a heretical strain of Islam. And Syria’s civil war has increasingly taken on sectarian colors.

The West and US should know better that ''taking side when two brothers are fighting always backfires.''

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP: Syrian President: Bashar al Assad