27 April, 2013


The drums of war are beating over Syria again. For my taste the British and French are a little too keen, seemingly looking for an excuse to intervene, whereas the Americans seem to be looking for an excuse not to.

But there is evidence that chemical weapons have been used, although this is only evidence and of course there is no proof as to who fired them. The rebels might easily have discovered a weapons stash on their advance northwards.

If the evidence does come in, however, Obama is in some difficulty. The war would not be popular in America, and yet he has said that the use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. American Presidents must not use words lightly and must not back down from a threat.

There are however some good reasons why this should not escalate.

1. This is the patch of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two richest and most powerful states in the Middle-east. They have been giving the rebels support, military as well as logistical, and it is their war. They have plenty of money and plenty of sophisticated American made weaponry.

2. Assad's regime is being backed militarily by Russia and diplomatically by China. Saudi and Qatari involvement would be an internal Middle-eastern war. European and American involvement might mean it spreading.

3. A no-fly zone has been suggested and this sounds cozy - American planes simply policing the skies (all 27 countries in Europe together wouldn't be able to put together a no-fly zone). But it would involve at the outset a massive attack to take out anti-aircraft installations and planes: that is to say American British and French aircraft bombing people and things on the ground. Killing Syrians and any Russian advisers.

4. The Russians have a naval base at Tartus, opposite Cyprus there. It is rumoured that Bashar-al- Assad is living on one of their ships. Are we to hope the Russian Mediterranean Fleet doesn't have ship-to-air missiles?

5. Lastly, we don't really know who the rebels are and what we do know isn't good. The group which has fought the fiercest and made the most ground, Jabhat al-Nusrah, is associated with al-Qaeda. A no fly zone would benefit them just as much, if not more, as the secular fighters in the Free Syrian Army.

I have said it before and I'll say it again, this is a good one to keep out of. Let's give as much support to Saudi and Qatar as we can, and tell them to get on with it.

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