US Not Considering Arms To Syrian Rebels

The Obama administration resists congressional pressure for military aid to the Syrian rebels; Al-Monitor writers take on the case of Fazil Say and the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

al-monitor Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, testify before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee in Washington, April 16, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Gary Cameron.

Topics covered

syrian, syria, salam fayyad, palestinians, palestinian, eu, censorship, assad

Apr 21, 2013

EU Official:  Arms to Syria Means ‘More Suffering’

In an interview with Al-Monitor, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva, who's responsible for the response of the European Union to humanitarian crises worldwide, said that the crisis in Syria “is the one with the most dramatic spillover risks that exists today. None of us can say that we have not seen this coming, because we see it coming, and yet there is this paralysis that exists” on ending the war.

Georgieva lamented the flow of arms to Syria, saying, “Our experience, from what we do as humanitarians, we just have not seen so far the pouring of arms into Syria to be helping raise the probability of a political solution or a negotiated exit. We haven’t seen it — with the exception of the Patriot missiles in Turkey that have had a deterrent impact on a part of the territory. The rest of throwing arms into Syria only meant more fighting, more suffering, more people running into neighboring countries.  And not more appetite for negotiation, so far.”

Georgieva’s comments come as US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on April 20 a doubling of non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition and civil society groups, bringing total US assistance to $250 million, and as the Obama administration continues to resist congressional pressure for US military support for the Syrian opposition.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 17, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said:

We have an obligation and responsibility to think through the consequences of any direct US military action in Syria. Military intervention at this point could hinder humanitarian relief operations.  It could embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy, and uncertain military commitment.  Unilateral military action could strain other key international partnerships, as no international or regional consensus on supporting armed intervention now exists.  And finally, a military intervention could have the unintended consequence of bringing the United States into a broader regional conflict or a proxy war.

Military intervention is always an option. It should be an option, but an option of last resort. The best outcome for Syria — and the region — is negotiated political transition to a post-Assad Syria.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, testifying at the same hearing, said he had reconsidered an earlier recommendation about military aid to the Syrian rebels. As The New York Times reported: “General Dempsey acknowledged that last year he had endorsed a proposal by David H. Petraeus, the CIA director at the time, to arm vetted members of the Syrian opposition. But he said he had rethought that position since then and was no longer sure the United States “could clearly identify the right people” to equip within the ranks of the armed opposition.”

Both Hagel and Dempsey testified that President Obama has not asked them to provide options for “additional military pressures” on the Syrian government.

The Obama administration may realize that there is probably no amount of military support to a disparate opposition that will be enough to claim victory against the Syrian armed forces, which are organized along sectarian lines for the type of long and costly civil war being fought today. Syria has its own lifelines in Russia and Iran, which have no intention of cutting off arms.  Under the Assad governments the Syrian military has reinforced the Alawite power structure and focused primarily, if not exclusively, on regime security, such as crushing the Muslim Brotherhood-backed insurrection in the 1980s.  Alternatively, Syria offered no challenge when threatened by Turkey in 1998 to cease support for the Kurdistan Workers Party and its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and when Israel bombed a nuclear facility in 2007.

So the question of military aid to the rebels should be understood in its full magnitude, as a long-term commitment that could lead to eventual military intervention. In the meantime, as Commissioner Georgieva observed, more arms mean more suffering for Syrians, and no political solution to the crisis.

Turkey: The Case Against Fazil Say 

A Turkish court last week convicted virtuoso pianist Fazil Say to a 10-month suspended sentence for tweeting and retweets “insulting religion and as such committing an act conducive to disrupting of public peace.”

The sentencing has provoked debate and controversy in Turkey, in the international media and the twittersphere, and among our Turkish writers at Al-Monitor.

Kadri Gursel writes that “the goal of the court decision is not to protect public peace but to build and reinforce a new taboo of this country. This taboo is 'Sunni Islam religiosity.'"

Orhan Kemal Cengiz adds that Say’s  “conviction is just another alarming development in Turkey. In recent years, the Turkish judiciary seemed to be over-sensitive about protecting religion and religious values against those who allegedly insult Islam. The case against Say was only one of those that was brought against artists and bloggers for allegedly insulting Islam and religion.” 

Mustafa Akyol stressed that Say is convicted of violation of a hate-speech law, not a blasphemy law.  Akyol noted that in 2009 a group of Turkish nationalists were convicted under the same law for hate speech against Jews and Armenians.  While opposing the sentence on Say, Akyol considers Say’s comments to fall into the category of hate speech.

Tulin Daloglu used her column on the Say case to observe that “a Turkish judge decided that Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has been in a position of an 'illegal occupier' for the past 50 years in maintaining the 13th century Church of Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea, as a museum.”  The decision may lead to the church becoming a mosque.

Salam Fayyad’s Resignation

Daoud Kuttab wrote last week that, ultimately, Salam Fayyad resigned as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority because of the occupation: “Salam Fayyad tried his best to build a state while Israeli soldiers and the system of occupation and colonization showed no sign of retreat. He, more than anyone else, has proved the folly of an economic peace or a benevolent occupation. He was constantly attacked as a stooge of the West and Israel, but he was not.”

Shlomi Eldar responded to Kuttab that while the occupation was no help to Fayyad’s efforts to build Palestinian institutions, it was the lack of support from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the pressure from Hamas that brought him down: “Salam Fayyad had many reasons to resign, but the occupation was hardly the main one. True, Israel did not make things easy for him, but the biggest problem that he faced was a lack of support from the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, when confronted with the ire of Fatah and Hamas.”

Hazem Balousha reports from Gaza that Fayyad’s resignation was considered of minimal consequence by Hamas officials, who consider the Palestinian Authority illegitimate anyway, and will have no appreciable effect on reconciliation.

Geoffrey Aronson writes that Fayyad’s resignation will be a blow to US efforts to give priority to improving the economic situation of Palestinians in the latest effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: “How can Washington showcase the merits of economic assistance to the PA when Fayyad, whom they pressed to remain in office, has thrown in the towel in despair? With Fayyad, the US-led donors are comforted that they have 'one of their own' — a Western-educated administrator and technocrat schooled in the language and practice of international development, in the Muqata. He makes the trains run on time, or would if the Palestinians had any trains, and he keeps his security forces fed and functional. Without him at the helm of the newly transparent but broke PA, Washington risks losing the European donors who already have an advanced case of donor fatigue and Congress, which has found in Fayyad the only Palestinian they love to love.”

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