The EU has said it will not renew an arms embargo on Syria which ends this Saturday. That should pave the way for countries wanting to arm the rebels, something both Britain and France have been saying they will consider.
It is a tired truism, but nonetheless one still worth restating, that not all the Syrian rebels are jihadists. This is precisely what has motivated Britain and France to explore ways of working with the rebels, although there are currently no plans to supply them with arms.
But arming the rebels would be a mistake. It is clear Assad must go and that a future Syrian state will need to be recalibrated in his absence, but the fissiparous nature of the ongoing conflict makes it impossible to arm even trusted rebel groups. Most of the rebel forces are currently shelving their differences while they tussle against Assad. That means secular nationalists are frequently caught fighting alongside the al-Qaeda aligned fighters of Jabhat al-Nusra despite the tensions that exist between them. Arms sent to one group would almost inevitably end up in the hands of another. Of course, the lessons of Afghanistan in the 1980s counsel against direct military support for jihadists.
None of this should overlook the moral imperative to support Syria’s beleaguered civilians. The best ideas for intervention have already been mooted, with a Turkish led invasion of Syria’s northern territories creating a humanitarian corridor for civilians still inside the country. A no fly zone would also prove useful in this respect, removing Assad’s ability to attack rebel positions from the air. All this would go some way towards redressing the balance while also keeping weapons away from jihadist elements.
In this context it is hard to see what practical effect the EU’s rescinding of the Syrian arms embargo will have. It seems likely that the move was primarily a diplomatic one designed to increase pressure on Assad ahead of planned peace talks in Geneva next month. Anything more would be a disaster.
The next Spectator Debate on 24 June will be debating the motion ‘Assad is a war criminal. The West must intervene in Syria’ with Malcolm Rifkind, Andrew Green, Douglas Murray and more. Click here to book tickets.Tags: European Union, Spectator debate, Syria