News / Middle East

West Debates Whether to Arm Syrian Opposition

A Free Syrian Army fighter inspects his weapon in the Khan al-Assal area near Aleppo, April 27, 2013.
A Free Syrian Army fighter inspects his weapon in the Khan al-Assal area near Aleppo, April 27, 2013.
Short of weapons, rebel forces have been fighting the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for more than two years. At the same time, there is a debate in the West over whether the United States and other Western countries should provide weapons to the insurgents.

Experts agree there is a military imbalance between Syrian government troops and opposition forces.

Damascus has a wide variety of weapons at its disposal, including thousands of tanks, helicopters, jet fighters, heavy artillery, armored personnel carriers and chemical weapons.

For decades, first the Soviet Union and now Russia provided Damascus with arms.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad indicated in a recent interview that Damascus has received a first shipment of a Russian air defense system that could deter foreign military intervention.

Syrian opposition lightly armed

The opposition forces don’t have heavy weapons or helicopters. They are essentially armed with assault rifles, machine-guns, anti-tank rockets and a few shoulder-fired missiles.

Experts say much of the weaponry used by the insurgents has either been captured from military depots, taken from soldiers of the Syrian army who have defected, or purchased on the black market.

Reports say countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also either providing funds to the rebels to purchase weapons or are directly supplying them with arms.

Analysts say the European Union has lifted its arms embargo on the Syrian opposition in an effort to restore a military balance.

John Pike, head of GlobalSecurity.org, a firm specializing in defense issues, agrees with the EU decision.

“This is exactly the same debate that we were having 20 years ago over Bosnia," he said. "We had an arms embargo, they were massacring their own people and eventually the policy that we came to was called ‘lift and strike’ - lift the embargo and strike the oppressor. And after a few weeks of that, [Slobodan] Milosevic, the Serbian dictator, was brought to the table.”

However, other analysts believe arming the Syrian opposition is fraught with danger.

Fawaz Gerges, with the London School of Economics, said it is difficult to determine who should receive military aid.

“You have about 300 armed factions inside Syria," he said. "There is no unified command and control. It’s chaotic; it’s fragmented; it’s decentralized. This fragmentation lies at the very heart why the armed opposition inside Syria has not been able to deliver a decisive blow to the Assad government.

“In fact, the divisions among various armed factions inside Syria have been a great liability and it has allowed Assad to go on the offensive, in particular in the last four months,” he said.

Arming opposition questioned

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is also wary about providing weapons to the Syrian rebels.

“It’s very hard to find ‘white hats’ [good people] in that conflict," he said. "There is nothing good to be said about the Assad regime, but there is very little good to be said about most of the key leaders of the opposition, which is now shot through with al-Qaida and other terrorists and radical Islamist factions.”

Mona Yacoubian, senior analyst with the Stimson Center in Washington, takes it one step further.

“From an American interest standpoint, of course there are lingering, continuing concerns about whether or not such arms would end up in the wrong hands, in the hands of jihadist extremists who have an agenda that is inimical to the interests of the United States,” she said. “And there is also the issue of the fact that this is a sectarian civil war and in fueling, or providing arms to one side, does the United States and others become essentially partisans in what is a sectarian civil war.”

The United States has been providing the Syrian opposition with only non-lethal assistance such as medical supplies, communications equipment and water purification kits.

But the Obama administration has come under increasing pressure, especially from Republican lawmakers like Senator John McCain, to provide the anti-Assad forces with heavy weaponry, especially since Russia is going ahead with plans to deliver to Syria advanced anti-aircraft missiles.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Pete Street
May 30, 2013 3:42 PM
Note carefully this text: “It’s very hard to find ‘white hats’ [good people] in that conflict [the Syrian civil war]," he said. "There is nothing good to be said about the Assad regime, but there is very little good to be said about most of the key leaders of the opposition, which is now shot through with al-Qaida and other terrorists and radical Islamist factions.” If factual, then this passage must inform the US leadership contemplating the putting of its hand in this civil war. After all, whom would the US arm in the anti-government forces without inadvertently arming Islamic terrorists? Besides, the regional powers reportedly have been doing the dirty work of involvement in this internal conflic. Finally, the US has no burning interest in the Syrian civil war, and the US apparently has no reliable method of determining which side may’ve used poison gas. This analysis offers a simple-to-understand position for the US to stay out of the Syrian civil war. Let the US instead observe events there as they sort out among the involved parties.


by: dan
May 30, 2013 3:37 PM
Newsflash: we've been arming the rebels since they first began fighting in Libya.

This article is extremely misleading in saying that the US is debating supplying the rebels. Covert programs aren't on the table for debate in Congress.


by: Tebi Thomlinson from: UK
May 30, 2013 3:23 PM
why can't we let Israel sort things out there??? they embody our ideals of western egalitarian liberal democratic country and we trust them explicitly. So why do we have to get involved??? these problems are very distressing to the European community at a time when we do not need additional stress...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid