Is France reconsidering its position regarding the arming of the Syrian opposition?
A few hours before the EU foreign ministers meeting was scheduled to convene today [September 7] in Cyprus, a French diplomatic source said that “Paris is carefully considering the question of arming the Syrian opposition at home to protect the liberated areas from air shelling.”
The French source spoke of the stalemate facing Western diplomatic efforts at the UN Security Council, and of the lack of ways to circumvent Russia and China’s veto. Moreover, the Syrian National Council no longer enjoys the support of the West, as was the case last year. Today, the West seems to favor the armed opposition inside Syria, and is likely to provide it with the necessary means to face the regime in liberated areas.
Following France’s failed attempt to advance debate on the buffer zone in north Syria, the liberated areas have become a high priority, as some 750,000 Syrians must be protected from aircraft bombing. The liberated Syrian areas are estimated to constitute 40% of the Syrian territory, according to French diplomat who continued, "However, Syria as a whole remains subject to air shelling by the Syrian regime. It is good to help Syrians manage these areas and avoid being displaced.
"In Tal Rafaat, which is a northern region between Aleppo and the Turkish border that was liberated five months ago, local revolutionary councils have been established to help people stay in their homes, and to avoid the chaos that gripped Iraq."
The French source added that although the Syrian army has withdrawn from many areas, such as Deir el-Zour in the east, the outskirts of Aleppo in the north and Idlib in the northwest, not to mention that preparations have been made to clear reinforcements coming from Turkey, these areas remain subject to intermittent artillery shelling and air bombing. It is unlikely that the Syrian army would return to these areas, yet the people are demanding that they be provided with necessary air defense systems.
“Arming the opposition is a very complex subject. We are carefully considering this option. We are not underestimating its serious repercussions,” said the French diplomat.
On the eve of the EU ministerial meeting in Cyprus, which will discuss ways of helping the Syrian opposition and address the possibility of arming it, the French seem wary of any change to their adamant position against arming the opposition.
The caution of the European and French position is reasonable. France does not want another risky military venture in the region, as was the case in Libya, into which French, European and Arab weapons flowed freely, without any control. Moreover, French diplomats fear that the scenario of northern Mali would play out again in Syria. Following the collapse of Muammar Gadhafi, western-provided weapons fell into the Islamists groups’ hands in northern Mali. This is not to mention the migration of hundreds of Libyan fighters and mujahideen (religious fighters) into the new “Afghan desert.” This poses a direct threat to French interests, regarding uranium mines in Niger, and to the security of the Sahel countries.
The French have not budged from their usual position. They will continue to supply humanitarian aid to consolidate the liberated areas. However, they remain against arming the opposition “as it is not a simple thing to do.”
The French diplomat noted, “In the recent past, we saw how weapons ended up falling into the hands of groups in the Sahel. This is further proof that we must work hard in order to build trust and get to know the other party better, and this will take some time.”