Arming the Opposition Would Destroy Syria

Calls by foreign countries to arm the Syrian opposition have been used by the Syrian government as proof that the uprising in that country is the result of foreign interference, notes Fayez Sara. However, the regime’s refusal to end its own military assault leaves Syrians with no choice to defend themselves, she argues.

al-monitor Free Syrian Army fighters look at a tank taken by defectors from the regular Syrian Army in Al Qusayr February 23, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Samuel Jamison.

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Mar 14, 2012


Arming the Syrian opposition will only lead to more bloodshed, further killing and destruction. Syria as we know it would turn to ruins — home to amputees, homeless and disabled people. Few Syrian citizens would be healthy or prosperous. Some would remain heavily armed and obsessed with killing, while others would flee destruction for a safe haven.

This horrifying scenario for Syria is likely to play out as the result of the blood-soaked path which began in Daraa, when the first bullet was fired at rebels who were protesting their dire living conditions. What started as a mere protest has degenerated into a widespread and ruthless crackdown led by Syrian security forces, the army and the Shabiha groups (thugs) to stifle the demonstrations. The Syrian government did not take long to engage in an all-out war on many population centers under the banner of fighting terrorists and armed groups.

In light of the escalating violence and tightening security measures, Syrians were forced to take up arms to defend themselves against the vengeful and brutal actions of the regime. Some of the security and military personnel deserted the army to join the ranks of the rebels. Many revolutionary leaders were killed, arrested or expelled, while the regime sought to militarize the revolution, further justifying its bloody crackdown and the excessive use of force against protesters and other civilians. Thus, the revolution was transformed into armed clashes between the regime and insurgents in some areas of Syria, notably in the city of Homs and its districts.

The Syrian uprising has witnessed a surge in violence over the past two months. This was the result of two main factors: first, the failure of all initiatives to address the Syrian situation, whether at the regional level — as was the case of the Arab League initiative — or at the international level, as a result of the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the UN Security Council. The second factor was the dramatic increase in the number of victims, whether dead, wounded or arrested. Not to mention those who were displaced to neighboring countries due to the expansion of security operations. The number of army deserters also increased, paving the way for calls to arms and militarization. Nevertheless, the Gulf countries raised the temperature another notch when Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other GCC countries called for providing the Syrian rebels with weapons, following the Friends of Syria meeting recently held in Tunisia.

The Syrian authorities took advantage of these calls to confirm interference in Syrian affairs, stressing that such intervention necessitates the militarization of the country’s conflict. The Syrian regime considered the calls to arm the opposition as further vindication of its warnings at the beginning of the revolution in March 2011. Furthermore, the Syrian government has recently submitted a letter of complaint to the United Nations, stating that “armed groups are killing innocent civilians in an attempt to stir up vengeful feelings and score cheap gains at the regional and international levels. Arming and training terrorists will lead to disastrous consequences in the region.”

Evidently, the Syrian regime’s letter did not suggest that the authorities are willing to back down on using excessive force in dealing with the crisis; nor did it present political alternatives to find a solution to the crisis, or even respond to the Arab League initiative. Thus, rejecting the arming of the opposition is nothing but a failed attempt to ease the violence. The crackdown is likely to continue and even expand, sending the country spiraling back toward chaos and ruin and increasing the number of victims.

Opposing the arming of the Syrian opposition appears to be necessary to preserve the peaceful nature of the Syrian revolution and its human and moral dimensions, as well as to to reduce the number of casualties and material losses across the country. However, the killing of civilians must be stopped and a political solution to the crisis must be simultaneously devised. Otherwise, all of this talk about objecting to the arming of the opposition would be in vain. Although this stance is meant to come off as well intentioned, the Syrian authorities’ agreement that the opposition should not be armed shows that, in practice, this is not the case.

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