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Missiles and the fear of Syria’s opposition

Prolonging the war by depriving the opposition of arms that finalize the war in its favor means prolonging the age of ISIS and al-Nusra Front

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Russia’s foreign affairs ministry was ahead of Syria’s when warning of arming the Syrian opposition with advanced weapons - air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles. The Russian statements were directed against news that Saudi Arabia intends to seal a deal that breaks the international ban on Syria’s rebels. This is a very critical issue, and it’s also complicated due to security, political and legal reasons. Russia’s excuse - and previously also America’s excuse - is that Syrian opposition extremists, or those participating in the fighting with them, may use these weapons to down jets or engage in wars outside Syria.

This has been a source of worry since day one of the revolution. This worry has pushed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime - along with Iran’s support - to play the al-Qaeda card and enable terrorist groups, like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front in Syria in order to terrify not only the West but the entire world, including the Gulf states.

There are fears that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda will tomorrow down civilian airplanes in any place it infiltrates or that it will target civilians in Europe or the Gulf, or any country which is in a state of war against these terrorist groups. We must not forget that it never attacked Iran or Israel or Syria before this war. It’s not unlikely that the Syrian regime may commit these acts itself - acts of launching rockets and then blaming the opposition in order to terrify the world and besiege the opposition by sabotaging its international relations.

No finale

Syrian opposition leaders and Western officials have discussed this issue several times. It’s because of this issue that the opposition was only provided with simple weapons that cannot finalize the war in its favor. This is happening at a time when the Russians and the Iranians are supplying Assads forces with advanced weaponry which has killed over 100,000 people so far.

Prolonging the war by depriving the opposition of arms that finalize the war in its favor means prolonging the age of ISIS and al-Nusra Front

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

This injustice must push those concerned not to accept this ban and insist on reconsidering it. I believe that a certain segment of the opposition can be trusted and equipped with advanced arms and that all guarantees can be achieved to avoid suspicious parties from attaining missiles or using them outside Syrian airspace. The other solution may to ban arming both parties and thus leave the war in a state of a tie.

The Russians are afraid of arming the opposition with advanced weapons because they, and the Iranians, provide direct military support on the ground - including on the level of managing aerial shelling. This help has come in Assad’s favor during the second half of the war. Assad’s forces without jets and tanks cannot confront the armed opposition. Proof to that is that rebel groups bloodied the militias of Hezbollah which is getting help logistic and aerial help from the Iranian axis. Meanwhile, the Russians want their ally to resume destroying all areas where there’s opposition, regardless of how many civilians die on a daily basis.

Not the case

Due to legal and political reasons, countries in support of arming the opposition - such as Saudi Arabia - cannot risk defying the world by equipping the opposition with advanced weapons unless concerned parties agree. This is not the case yet. The paradox is that although these countries stand with the Syrian people during its ordeal, they are aware that the presence of the ISIS, al-Nusra and similar groups pose a threat to them later. This is why Syria’s war is complicated. There’s fighting among three parties. There’s the Assad regime which represents Iran, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, and the Free Syrian Army. which is considered the only hope for a united and acceptable Syria.

We know that the coalition of Iran’s military axis - the Iranian revolutionary guards, Assad’s forces, Hezbollah and Iraq’s militias - is suffering from a severe drainage of its capabilities and forces during the conflict in the biggest war they’ve been involved in. If the Syrian regime loses the war, it will be the biggest strike against Iran and it will also be the end of Hezbollah as a militant power. This explains why the Iranian axis is sacrificing blood and money to win this war.

Impossible survival

Despite that, we repeat that it’s almost impossible for Assad’s regime to survive – whether the war continues and even if support increases. This is because of the size of the regime’s structure, the collapse of its security institutions, its enmity with the sweeping majority of Syrians and its complete dependence on Iran and Hezbollah. The only thing it can buy from its partial victory is to exit governance towards exile or perhaps reach a peaceful solution that maintains some regime remnants.

Prolonging the war by depriving the opposition of arms that finalize the war in its favor means prolonging the age of ISIS and al-Nusra Front and increasing the capabilities of these groups - not only in Syria but in the entire region. Not supplying the opposition with missiles will not protect a few jets here and there. Rather, it will increase the threat of terrorists across the world.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 27, 2013.


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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.