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PV Vivekanand: Nowhere near a solution
June 15, 2012
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The US has accused Russia of “escalating the conflict” in Syria by supplying attack helicopters and other weapons to the Syrian regime. In turn, Russia has accused the US of providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the regime’s forces.

A report in the UK’s Independent newspaper has said that rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have received weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The shipment were sent to Syria via Turkey with the implicit support of the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, according to a Western diplomat in Ankara quoted by the Independent.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed that Moscow did send attack helicopters and arms to Syria, home to Russia’s sole naval base outside its territory and long-time ally. But, Lavrov insisted, the dispatch of attack helicopters did not amount to supplying weapons because these were related to Syrian air defence, not arms to be used against the rebels. He said such deliveries are fully in keeping with international law, in contrast to the arms shipments to the rebels. But the argument is flawed because the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad has been using helicopter gunships to attack rebel areas.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said last week that Syria was in a state of full-scale civil war, adding that the regime has lost “some large chunks of territory” including several cities.

Fifteen months after Syrians, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets to stage peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in a revolt that has since turned into an armed conflict, the international community is nowhere near a solution to the conflict that witnessed the death of more than 12,000 people. Many more have been wounded. The country’s police and other security agencies are holding tens of thousands in detention in secret prisons where torture is the norm.

A peace plan prepared by UN-Arab League envoy has not made any headway. Well, it was not meant to do so because the Syrian regime’s “acceptance” of the initiative was simple deception aimed at buying time.

The Syrian regime itself shoulders the sole responsibility for the bloodbath because its response to the peaceful demonstrations in March last year was a brutal crackdown. It ordered its security forces to open fire against demonstrators, and soon unrest hit the country’s towns and villages, with the state forces stepping up its violent response.

The regime also polarised the people by giving the rebellion a religious overtone. It portrayed the conflict as pitting the Sunni majority against the Alawite minority that is ruling the country. Damascus also sought to rally the country’s Christians by stoking their fears by suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood was behind the rebellion.

As the death toll shot up in the crackdown, opposition forces started hitting back with weapons bought on the black market with funds donated by wealthy Syrians living abroad and smuggled from Turkey into Syria. But they were no match for the regime’s well-equipped and trained military.

The situation seems to be changing now. The reported supply of weapons by Saudi Arabia and Qatar could improve the rebels’ effectiveness on the ground, but is unlikely to change the overall balance.

The Independent report last week quoted FSA fighters as saying that said they had received multiple shipments of arms including Kalashnikov assault rifles, BKC machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank weaponry.

Images posted on Internet sites in recent days showed the wreckage of battle tanks, and it would be safe to assume that anti-tank weapons have reached the rebels.

Iran is also sending weapons and other military supplies to the Syrian regime, Tehran’s key ally among Arab countries. An unknown number of Iranian Revolutionary Guards are said to be present in Syria guiding the crackdown.

What is in the immediate cards is an escalation of battles between the regime’s forces and rebels, with the world doing little about it or unable to do anything about it.

On the international front, we are witnessing a resurgence of the Cold War between the US-led West and the then Soviet Union — replaced by Russia — at the expense of the Syrian people.

The Syrian regime has been waging its brutal campaign with impunity because of the rejection by Russia and China, which has its own political and economic agenda in Assad’s Syria, of effective action by the United Nations Security Council.

Now France is trying to force the Russian and Chinese hands against by calling for the UN Security Council to invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter on the situation and make the Annan plan “compulsory.”

“We need to pass to the next speed at the Security Council and place the Annan plan under Chapter VII — that is to say make it compulsory under pain of very heavy sanctions,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday.

Chapter VII sets out the UN Security Council’s powers to maintain peace. It allows the council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” and to take military and nonmilitary action to “restore international peace and security.”

Chapter VII was invoked in the case of Libya last year.

No doubt, Russia and China will go nowhere near any UN move that even hints at an authorisation for a foreign military intervention in Syria. They will simply kill it in the Security Council, but such a vote on the motion will add pressure not only Damascus but also on Moscow and Beijing.

Parallel to the effort, the US and its allies should also be moving to take action against the Syrian regime out of the UN context. They did so in the case of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and there should be no reason for them not to do so in the case of Bashar Al Assad’s Syria.

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