Syria Sunday Telegraph 23 June 2013


Syria Sunday Telegraph 23 June 2013


Who would not weep at the sight of the innocents being slaughtered in the bloody Calvary of the Syrian war? Who would not wish for something to be done?


But what if the “something” makes things not better, but worse. That, in a phrase, is our conundrum in deciding what next in Syria.


President Obama has been noticeably coy about revealing what he has in mind when he says the US will now actively help the rebels. It would be foolish to condemn what he is going to do before we know what it is. Maybe what he has in mind is something whose emphasis is more on the humanitarian than the military. That would be interesting. But not easy. A safe haven for the innocents can quickly become a safe operating base for the fighters. A protected aid corridor can swiftly become a sure route for more arms and fighters. What do you do then?


But if what the US President (and the British Prime Minster?) are thinking of, here are four reasons why this would be a bad idea.


Firstly, huge amounts of arms are already flowing into the rebel areas. At the latest estimate 3,500 tons of arms have been secretly supplied by the Saudis and the Quataris, aided by the CIA. These figures have not been disputed by US sources and I know where they are coming from. They are the left over weapons of the Balkan wars and they are coming from the underground arms factories and warehouses in Bosnia. And I will bet they are making a huge amount of money for a lot of criminals.


Secondly I just do not believe that the Syrian rebels are fit and proper people to be supplying with out arms. They are divided, disorganised and, some at least as brutal, as casual about killing and as extremist as those they are fighting.


Thirdly, I cannot think of any time in history when providing more weapons produced more peace. That’s why I opposed the lifting of the Bosnian arms embargo even at the height of that war and I cannot find reasons to think things different now.


And finally – and perhaps most importantly – Syria itself is not the conflict – it is only a front line in a much wider conflict.


What we are seeing played out in Syria is just one corner of a broader attempt by the salafist and wahabist extremists to take over the Sunni community in preparation for the conflict that matters to them now more than attacking the Great Satan of the West, which is destroying the great heretic of Tehran and the Shia. This is what connects Syria with neighbouring Lebanon, with what is happening in Cairo, in Tunisia, in Libya and in far away Mali. They are all part of the same piece.


What we risk stumbling into now is a widening religious war in the Middle East in which we in the West are being instrumentalised on the side of the Sunnis and the Russians (who have their own problems with Sunni radicalisation of in their own Islamic Republics) are supporting the Shia. Is this really what we really want to help arm?

And by the way, this radicalisation of the Sunni is being funded in large measure by Qatar and the same Saudi rich business circles who funded Osama Bin Laden. We thought that too was fine at the time, because of course our enemy’s enemy is our friend. Right? No wrong. As we soon discovered when he became our deadly enemy too.


Some, and I fear Downing Street is among them, see this as we always like to do as a simple black and white issue of oppressed citizens and brutal dictatorship where the West should ride to the rescue. A sort of Bosnia for our time. It is nothing of the sort. It is much more complex and in many ways much, much more dangerous.


If there is one thing we COULD be doing in Syria it is diplomatic not military. Use the influence of the US and Europe to tell our “friends” in Qatar an Saudi Arabia to stop funding the jihadist radicalisation of the Sunnis throughout the middle and near east. Now that is something we could build common cause with the Russians about and for that reason it may be the best first step to finding our way out of this mess.