Editorial: Arms for the rebels is no solution to Syria’s crisis

If Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything it is that foreign intervention is never simple – and Syria would surely be the most unpredictable of all

Share

It is now two blood-soaked years since the first demonstrations against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad lit the fuse of civil war. The rebels may have made inching progress, but the murderous regime is not backing down. An estimated 70,000 lives have been lost so far, some two million people have been displaced within the country, and another million are in refugee camps beyond its borders. Yet the struggle is locked in military stalemate, no end to the misery is in sight, and the baleful geopolitical ripple-effect is only gathering force.

The outlook is bleak. Although the opposition is more coherent than it was – the Western-backed Syrian National Council was due in Istanbul to elect a provisional prime minister this week – near-anarchy on the ground is proving a magnet for mercenaries, extremists and would-be terrorists from across the world. Indeed, intelligence sources have told The Independent that Syria is now the destination of choice for British jihadis.

Nor is the fillip to international terrorism the only danger. Syria’s confused conflict is increasingly involving its neighbours, too, what with Israeli air strikes near Damascus in January (allegedly to take out heavy weapons on their way to Hamas) and UN peacekeepers kidnapped by rebels in the Golan Heights this week.

More alarming still, Syria’s war is stirring up centuries-old strife between Sunni and Shia Islam, raising the very real risk of sectarian conflagration across the Middle East and beyond. Not only is religious violence on the rise within Syria itself – likely perpetrated by both sides, according to the UN – it is also spillling over the borders. Just this week, more than 40 Syrian Government troops sheltering on the Iraqi side of the frontier were massacred by a local Sunni militia that claimed the atrocity as a triumphant blow against Shia-affiliated Assad.

Faced with humanitarian disaster and imminent regional meltdown, calls for international action are growing ever louder. David Cameron, for one, is increasingly convinced, stating explicitly this week that he plans to press for a relaxation of the EU embargo on providing arms to Syria’s rebels, and hinting that Britain might go it alone if dove-ish European allies refuse  to budge.

It is easy to understand the Prime Minister’s frustration. And it is tempting to believe that a quick military shove would bring the war to a swift close. If Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Libya, have taught us anything, though, it is that foreign intervention is never so simple – and Syria would surely be the most unpredictable of all.

Not only would it be impossible to ensure that our weapons did not fall into the hands of jihadi extremists. It is also far from certain that what follows Assad would be a regime we would want to have sponsored, even at one remove. Most dangerous of all, the international community would risk being dragged into a regional religious feud of extraordinary ferocity. In fact, our involvement might even precipitate such a crisis, by playing the hands of those that would claim the West is bent on Islam’s destruction.

The sensible course, therefore, is to continue to offer only non-lethal help to the rebels. Meanwhile, efforts to broker a diplomatic solution must continue, and Syria rightly topped the agenda when the Foreign Secretary met his Russian counterpart in London yesterday. But with Moscow showing no sign of bowing to international pressure, the prospects of success are limited.

It is, then, on the plight of the Syrian people that our attention should focus. Efforts to assuage the refugee crisis must be redoubled – the likes of Turkey and Jordon helped with the logistical and security implications of the tens of thousands flooding over their borders. Such a plan may not seem like much, given the appalling human suffering that Assad is wreaking. But it will, at least, do no harm.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there