Editorial: No intervention without risk

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Talks, of course, remain no more than talks for as long as they are going on. But if the discussions we report today result in an international coalition providing air and sea support to rebel fighters and training for their assault units, then this would represent a significant upping of outside intervention in Syria's civil war.

We should perhaps be grateful for small mercies. Such involvement would not be "boots on the ground". Similar support was provided, quite discreetly, to anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya, though there was a greater presence on the ground than is often acknowledged. It can also be argued that such a move would be a logical sequel to last month's much-trumpeted uniting of the anti-Assad opposition.

This does not mean, however, that such help for the rebels would not be a worrying development. Indeed, the momentum for intervention seems to be growing by the day, without the possible adverse consequences being spelt out. Last week, Nato agreed to supply Turkey with Patriot missiles. The dangers to Turkey from Syrian shells are proven; Turkey is a member of Nato, and the batteries are defensive. But the regional balance of power will be affected.

Then there was new talk of President Assad's possible willingness to use chemical weapons, with warnings from President Obama and the Foreign Secretary, William Hague. Mr Hague's wording was particularly disturbing, so redolent was it of the utterances that preceded the intervention in Iraq. Has that misguided and costly war been so soon forgotten?

With the fighting in Syria coming closer to central Damascus, and Russia now seemingly more engaged in diplomatic efforts, the hope must be that events inside Syria pre-empt any outside intervention. Failing that, Western governments, including our own, need to recognise that Syria is not Libya and that any military involvement will be fraught with far more risk.

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