x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Moderates losing Syrian arms race

Failure to support moderate forces in the Syrian opposition can only ensure that the wrong hands will always have the upper hand.

After two years of violence in Syria, it has become clear that Bashar Al Assad is adamantly unwilling to accept any deal that would really resolve the conflict - that is, any deal that would unseat him.

The world must now work within the understanding that the regime's strategy is simple: use any weapon at hand or available from the few friendly foreign governments, even cluster bombs and ballistic missiles, to crush the rebellion. How then should the world respond?

More and more countries are coming to the view that enabling the rebels to tip the balance on the ground is becoming essential.

But these countries differ on the extent of the support they should give, and on a goal. Some want a decisive rebel victory; others advocate changing the balance of power to force the regime to some compromise, without Mr Al Assad but maintaining the state's structure and agencies.

What should not be in dispute, however, is that failure to assist the rebels will lead to more destruction and a protracted civil war that is difficult to predict in its scope and regional effect. That is why the European Union should reconsider its self-defeating weekend decision to continue its embargo on arms for the opposition.

The main argument for this ban is that modern light weapons could "fall into the wrong hands" - those of radical Islamists.

But there is already an arms race in Syria, and plenty of ordnance is reaching two sets of very wrong hands - the thuggish forces of the regime, and the extremist forces in the opposition.

Foreign Policy magazine reported on Friday that, the regime receives aid from at least 12 countries, including from EU members Italy, Greece and Cyprus. Anti-regime radical groups such as Jabhat Al Nusra are also well armed, thanks to friends outside the country.

Moderate forces - which by all accounts are the majority on the rebel side - are underarmed and cannot defend areas where they operate.

There are now multiple reports that the regime's forces, particularly units President Bashar Al Assad can trust the most, are feeling the strain of continued combat; a pro-regime mufti recently urged young men to join the army. This fuels the belief that more and better weapons, in the right hands soon, could end the agony and offer hope of a better future.

Failure to support moderate forces can only ensure that the wrong hands will always have the upper hand.