Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that the UK had no immediate plans to arm Syria’s opposition. It came after EU leaders reacted coolly to a proposal from Cameron and the French Pres François Hollande for the EU’s embargo on sending arms to Syrian rebels to be lifted.
“As things stand today are not saying that Britain would actually like to supply arms to rebel groups. What we want to do is work with them and try to make sure that they’re doing the right thing. And with technical assistance we are able to do that.”
EU countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden want to keep the embargo. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she feels supplying rebels with the weapons would spark an arms race with the Syrian Government’s backers also increasing their supplies to it.
“We need to be careful that the other side is not also supplied with yet more weapons by other countries that don’t have the same attitude towards Bashar al-Assad as Germany and other member states of the European Union. That’s why for us it’s a very complicated issue. The Germany is ready in the views of certain member states change to discuss this further with foreign ministers.”
Nevertheless, Cameron said the international community’s response to the Syrian crisis hadn’t really worked and hinted that the UK could act unilaterally to supply weapons to rebels if such a step was deemed to be in Britain’s national interest. He dismissed fears that the weapons would end up in the wrong hands saying Jihadist groups inside Syria are already receiving weapons sent by their backers in the Arab world. And he argued a strong Syrian opposition was necessary to convince the Syrian Pres Bashar al-Assad of the need for a political solution.
“I think in fact we are more likely to see a political progress if actually people can see that the Syrian opposition, which we have now recognized, that we are walking with, is a credible and strengthening, and growing force.”
Fawaz Gerges is a Prof of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics. He says Britain and France believe arming the rebels will achieve three distinct goals:
“They believe that Assad is receiving more weapons than the rebels, and if you reverse this balance of power, you would change the calculation of Pres Assad. This is point one.
Point two – Britain and France would like to reverse the balance of power within the armed opposition itself, away from the militant Jihadists to what they call religious nationalist moderate camps, like the Free Syrian Army. And they believe, both the Europeans and the Americans, that the Free Syrian Army, that the religious nationalists, moderates, armed oppositional is capable of making sure that the weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.
And finally, one of the major underlying reasons is that they want to have influence with the opposition in a post-Assad Syria. The idea is – how can you really influence the shape of the new Syria unless you provide arms to the opposition.”
But Prof Gerges says sending weapons to the rebels is unlikely to make the critical difference to the situation on the ground.
“What the opposition does not have is the following: they don’t have a centralized commandment control, there is no kind of unified position. Both in the political opposition and the armed opposition you have major cleavages and divisions between the nationalists and the radicals. Also what you have now within the opposition itself is that the opposition has not been able to create the critical mass that punctures holes in the President Assad’s system.
So, for a variety of reasons even if you provide more arms, if you don’t have unity, if you have chaos, if you have major cleavages within the opposition – the weapons won’t actually make the critical difference at the end of the day.”
Andrey Baklitsky, Project Director at the Russian Centre for Policy Studies, says Russia is likely to view British or French action to arm the rebels as unacceptable.
“While Russia is trying to bring the parties to the table and while there are clear signs on the part of the Assad’s regime, on the part of the Government to be willing to participate in the talks, at the very moment when this is happening providing rebels with weapons would be almost unacceptable for Russia.”
But Baklitsky says Russia would find it hard to increase its own transfers of military hardware to Syria.
“The vessels transporting the Russian weapons to Syria might be intercepted or stopped when entering ports or airports and so on. So, Russia cannot easily and in the short period of time send big amounts weapons into Syria. Of course now there is a little thing with Iran, I’m sure that Iran would proclaim that it openly supports Syria with weapons if Britain and France will do the same.”
The EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the arms embargo on Syria again in Dublin next week. In May the EU is due to vote on whether to extend the embargo beyond its deadline of June 1.
Source: Voice Of Russia