Blogging for the Huffington Post: Why Britain Should Arm Syrian Rebels
At long last, a policy on Syria that makes sense. This week, prime minister David Cameron indicated that Britain was ready to bypass an EU arms embargo and deliver arms to Syria’s opposition fighters – much to the horror, I expect, of Bashar Assad.
Syria is in the throes of civil war, and thanks largely to continuing Russian supplies of ammunition and vital spare parts, Assad’s forces have so far enjoyed superiority in the air and on the ground. Only the indefatigable spirit of the country’s citizen militia – known popularly as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – has denied Assad the victory that he believes lies only round the corner.
The FSA’s resilience has been tested and found not wanting, but it cannot be expected to hold its own for much longer without external assistance. Its lack of air cover and effective means to tackle armour has limited its capacity to end the war quickly by dealing Assad’s war machine a knockout blow. No one in Syria is calling for Nato intervention anymore; after two years of heroics all that they want is to be given the chance to finish off their dictator themselves.
Recent fighting in Raqqa, Homs and Deraa has shown that loyalist soldiers, most of whom are brainwashed conscripts, are losing their stomach for the fight. When attacked, they are choosing to surrender than risk dying for a sinister tyrant who has pitted them against their fellow countrymen. That is why the Prime Minister’s decision to push through with plans to deliver battle-winning weapons to the FSA could not have come at a better time.
Yes, there will be that will argue that pouring more arms into the conflict will only exacerbate the situation, and that only a diplomatic solution will do. They may be right on the latter point, but in order to achieve that elusive diplomatic breakthrough, there must first be a shift in the military balance of power on the ground.
It might be worth recalling that only when the US unilaterally lifted its arms embargo on Bosnia in November 1994, which was followed by a successful push by Muslim and Croatian forces the following year, did the Serbs finally agree to sit around the negotiating table.
The problem in Syria is that Assad still believes he can win. He has the support of the Alawite community (10% of population) which has foolishly tied its fate to his, and has the active support of Russia and Iran. In theory, the West supports the opposition, but in effect any support the opposition has received has been strictly of the non-lethal kind, meaning it has had little or no effect on the battlefield. This policy has only emboldened two camps: extremist elements within the opposition who say that the West is perfidious and unreliable, and Assad, who has banked on the West dawdling from day one.
The Syrian opposition has expressed its willingness to negotiate with Assad. He doesn’t appear to be interested while his bombers are still able to reduce cities to rubble. It’s time for the MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems).