Arms to the Syrian Rebels -- Will Lead to More Violence?

06/24/2013 09:55 am ET | Updated Aug 24, 2013

The London 11, also known as the "Friends of Syria," led by the U.S. and Saudi-Arabia, endorsed the Obama administration's decision to increase support to the Syrian rebels, particularly by the shipment of arms and training of their fighters. The truth is that on the ground there were indications already weeks ago that the Americans, Saudis and Qataris, with some Turkish and Jordanian support, were doing just that.

The initial reports from Syria, mostly from rebel sources, henceforth somewhat questionable, indicate that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is already using some new arms, particularly anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. According to Al-Sharq, the rebels are expected to get 100 tanks. All this may happen or not, though it seems that the new arms may already have some effect on the ground, as the much-publicized army assault on Aleppo does not lead to any breakthrough.

This blog consistently advocated the shipment of arms to the FSA, and while the actual shipments may come late, here is a case of better late than never. This is not the opinion of some well-known Washington insiders, who criticized the Obama administration, emphasizing the claim that the shipments will increase the violence in Syria. A typical example of this argument was provided by Fareed Zakaria on his GPS program on CNN, and the question aroused is whether his GPS operates from Mars or the moon, as Zakaria may have forgotten that the violence in Syria has already claimed 100,000 lives, uprooted millions from their houses and recently spread to neighboring Lebanon, threatening to open a full-scale civil war also in that fragile state.

It is regrettable that in the corridors of power in the beltway, be it in the administration, or the media or the think tanks, it took so much time to read the Syrian situation correctly. So much intellectual energy was wasted on denying the obvious. We were bombarded with theories about the nature of the conflict, which all overlooked some well-identified realities, chief among them the sectarian nature of the conflict. Now, it is a common theme that the Middle East is witnessing the first Sushi War (Sunnis against Shi'ites...), but the signs were all over the place for a lot of time for those who wanted to acknowledge the reality, as grim as it is.

When calls for the Obama administration to supply the rebels were made in the past, the standard response by so many in Washington was that it would lead to more violence and a full-fledged civil war. So, violence raged and civil war expanded, but this argument is still being used, in total disregard to what is happening on the ground.

The supply of more sophisticated arms to the rebels means that from now on we can expect the war to be what a war is supposed to be, a struggle between military forces, whereas until now , exactly because the rebels lacked enough arms, it was an uneven struggle between a well-armed military machine and bands of ragtag rebels. Exactly for that state of affairs, both sides resorted to slaughters. The regime did it because they wanted to scare and terrorize the population, and the rebels retorted in kind, because they lacked the means to wage a real, full-scale battle.

This is not to say that there will not be anymore atrocities committed by both sides. There will be and how, but now the struggle enters a stage in which the rebels can effectively force the regime to withdraw to the Alawite state which is in the making. This will take time, but it will happen. The supply of arms to the rebels is not a risk-free operation. The FSA is not still a totally coherent and disciplined force, and the more militant Islamists are lurking in the wings. So, the danger of transfer of arms from the FSA to jihadist elements is very real. Yet, the U.S. and the Saudis and Qataris who were the main pushers behind the American and the London 11 decision, are better positioned now to monitor and supervise the FSA.

The new U.S.-Saudi approach reduces, rather than increases, the likelihood of American boots on the ground, and even weakens the case for a unilateral American imposition of a no-fly zone, a prospect which aroused the public ire of Russia. The rebels with their more advanced anti-aircraft missiles can try to enforce a virtual no-fly zone by themselves.

The Syrian civil war is a typical Middle East story, insofar as it presents bad and worse options. To try what was not tried until now may prove yet another fiasco, but that remains to be seen. No need though to speculate about the inevitable outcome of the situation when the rebels are without the arms that can put an end to the conflict, and this is an intensification of an indiscriminate slaughter.

Can it be that GPS does not see what is happening, or is it just a well-meaning, though flawed
liberal GPS that requires urgent updating?