Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

When to expect military intervention in Syria?

Europe is split into two camps - the opponents and supporters of the initiative to repeal the ban on the supply of arms to the Syrian rebel groups. While the first camp attempts to follow the laws of logic and the tenets of the international law, the second camp only contributes to the growth of poverty and bloodshed. In case of withdrawal of the ban by the EU Member States, a military intervention into the Arab Republic may be a likely next step.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on the European Union on behalf of his country and the United Kingdom to consider lifting the arms embargo to the Syrian anti-government forces, justifying this by the need to support the aspirations of the people striving for change and the soonest end of the confrontation.

In the event that the EU member states refuse to support their initiative, Paris and London are prepared to begin supplying Bashar Assad's opposition with weapons and ammunition on their own, against the existing arrangements.

The ban on arms sales to Syria adopted by the EU in 2011 looked more like an attempt to exert political pressure on Russia that has a long-standing mutually beneficial cooperation with Bashar al-Assad in the military sector.

Russia, represented by head of its Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov condemned the embargo at the time, comparing it with the situation in Libya, where the international prohibition applied only to the supply of arms for the needs of the national army, but not the opposition and mercenaries. It was also stressed that the country was ready for a dialogue on the subject, provided that it applied to both conflicting parties. Moreover, the EU sanctions are effective within the Union only, and the Russian Federation was free to decide whether it should break the existing agreements with Syria for the supply of over twenty MiG-29 units and other equipment, worth up to four billion dollars, or leave them in force.

Having come to a seemingly unanimous decision then, some of the European countries, and in the first place the perpetrators of the current revision attempt, still continued to provide assistance to the opponents of the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic. They provided diplomatic channels, substantial funding to the opposition, operational communications and sent military experts to help. Given that the U.S. and NATO member states, as well as the Arab League and the GCC (Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf) also provided active political, economic, informational and military assistance to the rebel groups, the scope of their joint effort cannot help but impress.

The leaders of France and Britain today declare their readiness to provide official assistance to the "new" Syrian authorities in the form of supplies of night vision equipment, armored vehicles, bulletproof vests, anti-tank systems and missiles systems "ground-to-air" for "self-defense" from painful blows of the regular army.

Most EU countries at the moment are not inclined to support the Franco-British initiative. Why not? Germany and Belgium argue that the provision of arms to one of the opposing sides may violate parity and further escalate the conflict with the inevitable increase in the number of victims and the flow of refugees.  

Use of air defense systems by the opposition forces may increase the danger to aviation of Bashar Assad, whose aircraft would have to raise the bar in terms of height, which would significantly reduce the accuracy of bombing, and thus affect the number of accidental deaths among civilians. Austria is concerned about the safety of its observers watching the development of the conflict in Syria.

Most European states are concerned with the risk of military equipment, arms and ammunition getting in the hands of Islamic extremist groups operating among or behind the Syrian rebels. In the future, the EU weapons could be used against them. Such precedents have taken place in history. The United States that provided active assistance in terms of weapons and training to members of the "Taliban" movement at the time when Soviet troops were present in Afghanistan, is now forced to either buy back their weapons at exorbitant prices from their protégé that turned their back to them, or incur significant personnel losses due to the use of the weapons by the latter. "Al Qaeda" and Osama bin Laden fit the same scenario, and these are not the only examples.

The Israeli issue may play an important role in indecisiveness of the EU. The enhancement and success of armed rebels could cause a formation of a unit in Syria with fundamentalist Islamic ideology, hostile and extremely dangerous for the Jews. The possibility that weapons intended for the needs of the Syrian opposition will get in the hands of terrorist-minded activists of "Hezbollah" in Lebanon is not ruled out either. In the case of lifting the embargo, Israeli leaders insist on the full detailed information on the number, type, destination and location of military cargo.

The leadership of Iran has spoken about the possible provision of arms to the Syrian militants by the EU, saying that the West wants to legalize something it has long been successfully engaged in. Tehran has repeatedly accused the parties interested in the success of the operation to topple Bashar al-Assad of secret arms sales to the oppositionists. One of the latest cases officially confirmed by Iranian news agencies was the withdrawal of NATO weapons and ammunition from rebels in the Syrian province of Idlib.  

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, members of the GCC and members of the Arab League formally backed the government created by the opposition in Syria and abroad. But the above mentioned international associations pay special attention to supporting Islamist groups, while the West provides help to moderates.

The U.S. has always been among the most ardent supporters of the military assistance of any kind to the devotees of Syrian modernization. It has been trying to influence the situation since the beginning of the active phase of the conflict in this Arab country. But even in the U.S. concerns about the true destination of European weapons recently emerged. American officials do not want to repeat the same mistake.

Russia, as mentioned above, is a firm opponent of Syrian arms shipments to anti-government forces and sees only one way out of the complex situation in this country - a two-way dialogue. Russia is fulfilling the earlier arrangements for the supply of military equipment to its Middle East partner, but does not enter into any new contracts. The leaders of the European countries focus on the prohibition under international law of supply of any types of weapons to non-state subjects.

On March 14, 2013 in the capital of Belgium a summit of European Union Member States opened. On the second day of the summit, in its informal part, representatives of twenty seven countries discussed the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic and the initiative of the French and British parties in detail. A compromise decision to lift restrictions on the supply of arms to this Middle Eastern country engulfed in civil confrontation has not been reached. The reasons for the differences remained the same.

The EU decided to limit itself with the February easement of the ban, which allowed sanctioning the delivery of non-lethal equipment to Syria. The embargo on the import of weapons and military equipment to its territory will continue at least for three months and has been officially extended until the first of June of this year. Following this, the British government has already announced the launch of its program to supply the Syrian opposition certain clothing, optics and special purpose vehicles.

President of the European Union Herman Van Rompuy promised to come back to the discussion of this acute issue at the upcoming informal meeting of foreign ministers of the member countries that will take place next week in Dublin. The goal is to develop a single position on the priority issue for the EU member states that would satisfy everyone. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the UK do not hide their desire for, even if limited, military intervention in Syria.

Sergei Vasilenkov


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