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Open Season on Syria’s Civil War

By Claude Salhani | Tue, 28 May 2013 22:06 | 0

Igitur qui desiderat pacem, preparet bellum -- If you want peace prepare for war, this old adage is believed to have been spoken by the Roman military writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus. And this is precisely what the European Union and the Russians are doing over Syria. Or rather they talk about war while preparing for more war.

All while attempting to convene an international peace conference to try and find a solution to the Syrian civil war, both pro and antigovernment factions have elected to crank up the pressure. The European Union has voted to lift the arms embargo allowing member countries of the EU to ship weapons to Syrian rebels -- if they so desire to do -- and at the same time the Russians have decided to supply the regime with S-300 antiaircraft missiles, saying this was a “stabilizing factor.”

The S-300, known to NATO as the SA-10 Grumble, is a long range surface-to-air missile systems produced by NPO Almaz, all based on the initial S-300P version. The S-300 system was developed to defend against aircraft and cruise missiles for the Soviet Air Defense Forces. Subsequent variations were developed to intercept ballistic missiles. This missile was first developed by the Soviet Union in 1979 to protect large industrial complexes and administrative facilities, military bases and to defend against enemy military aircraft.

It is considered as one of the most potent anti-aircraft missiles systems in use. Its radars have the ability to track up to 100 targets at the same time, while engaging up to 12.  The missiles can be deployed in about 5 minutes and are sealed rounds, which unlike many other missile-defense systems that require much maintenance, the S–300 requires no maintenance over their lifetime.

Related article: Assad is Back, and Syrian Peace Will Be on His Terms

These moves by the EU and the Russians are both good and bad news depending on which side of the dispute you stand. As a matter of fact this is both good and bad news at the same time regardless of which side of the dispute you stand.

Confusing?  Yes it is, but the Middle East is usually a very confusing place. This is what these recent developments do to the crisis. First, it brings a Band-Aid were major surgery is needed. Second, it adds oil to the fire. And third it accentuates the conflict. And both sides of the argument are correct.

On the one hand the rebels fighting government forces of President Bashar Assad need to be properly supplied with weapons so that they can continue their struggle. On the other hand the rebels who are taking over the rebellion in Syria are not the same rebels that dominated the terrain when the fighting first began as the more democratic forces are being sidelined in favor of the Muslim brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

France and Britain support sending arms to rebels, while others including Austria, Czech Republic and Sweden strongly oppose the measures fearing that eventually some weapons will fall into the wrong hands.  Austria argued through the voice of Michael Spindelegger, its foreign minister, that this move paved the way to send weapons to the Assad regime as well.

While France and Britain's stances are understandable, it may well be shortsighted. But then again what are the options?

Related article: Playing with Oil and Fire

Rather than focus on means to end the conflict this might just accentuate it. Giving the green light on arms to the rebels will give further incentive to the Russians to step up their weapons delivery of the regime, as indeed Moscow wasted no time Monday announcing the delivery of missiles to Damascus.

Supporting the fears of the Austrians and others opposed to supplying weapons to the rebel was the outcome of the opposition talks held over the past four days in Turkey where to the great disappointment of many moderate opposition figures and their Western and Arab supporters gathered in Istanbul, the 60-member Syrian national coalition prevented an agreement to allow a group of liberals led by Michel Kilo into the coalition.

This crystallizes the fears held by countries like Austria and the Czech Republic that the Syrian uprising is being hijacked by Islamists and weapons given to those will eventually be turned against the Europeans.

By. Claude Salhani

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.

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