Why David Cameron is right about Syria

Cameron is right. Continued engagement with the rebels, especially around this sensitive time, will eventually bring results.

With the chief of staff for the Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idriss, told CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday that President Assad’s Syrian regime is launching a new offensive of chemical weaponry against rebels in the Syrian civil war, President Barack Obama is now feeling the pressure to take action.

Obama has recently reiterated that: “We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists.”

Though the US President has never explicitly promised a military response to chemical weapons, it has been reported that “his administration’s comments have suggested such a possibility”.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called use of chemicals “a red line” that would prompt a U.S. response, but Pentagon chief spokesperson George Little declined at the time to elaborate what this “response” would be – leaving room for interpretation.

Now that Britain, France and Israel have all claimed to have found evidence of chemical weapon use in Syria, the opposition to Assad will certainly want to see some escalation.

An update

The Syrian civil war has turned into one of those events that delivers so much tragedy that it is simply impossible for news agencies to keep it on the front pages. In light of newly found chemical weapon use, it is worth providing a little update on recent events.

In March some 6,000 people died in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group – the deadliest month since protests against the Assad regime began.

Victims included at least 291 women, 298 children, 1,486 rebel fighters and army defectors, as well as 1,464 government troops.

In response to the growing concern that the opposition army were too fractured for any coordinated international action, previously separate groups united to create the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

France recognised the coalition first in November 2012; then in December the US finally recognised it as “legitimate representative” of Syrian people.

In February it was numbered by the UN that over 70,000 people had been killed in Syria, with that the number rising all the time. It had long been anticipated that chemical weapons would soon appear on the horizon, to coincide with Assad’s previous warnings.

Evidence of chemical weapons

The Times yesterday (£) published a report on the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. It told of small-scale attacks using this weaponry, so as to test the rhetoric of the US government and their ‘red line’.

Official lines are still being cautious, but British intelligence revealed earlier this week that  artillery shells containing the nerve agent sarin had been fired by President Assad’s forces into rebel-held bunkers.

The Times carried the following tragic story of one man, Yasser Yunis, a 27-year-old car mechanic from Aleppo.

After walking the dusty corridor of his house of the Sheikh Maqsood quarter of the city in which he lived, he started to hear what sounded like animal noises. It turned out to be the sound of his wife and children.

“I turned and ran back into the room … My wife and children were struggling to breath. Froth was coming from their mouths. The air had a strange sensation, sharp. My own throat began to constrict and my heart was hammering.

“My vision was going. I grabbed my boy Sadiq and ran for the street. Then I collapsed. I remember nothing more.”

Yunis’ family died from inhaling sarin gas. But the tragedy is that we know the Assad regime has had this stockpiled since at least last year.

It was reported in August 2012 that the government had more than 500 metric tons of the precursor materials –  isopropanol and methylphosphonyl difluoride – for sarin.

An unnamed American official revealed that engineers working for Assad had started combining the binaries in small batches – possibly to use on the said small-scale attacks.

The complexities of intervention

April marks the twentieth anniversary of Operation Deny Flight, a NATO mission to operate a no-fly zone over the skies of war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. Always with this in mind, the call for intervention in Syria has started again, but we know that it is a complex task.

The reasons are varied, so I will outline the important ones here:

  • People will ask why the West should get involved, invoking the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though it should be remembered that Turkey, for example, has never conducted a humanitarian intervention on its own and it is unlikely to start now;

  • Even if the West were to intervene on the ground, or increase the arms and strategic guidance it already gives, Assad is cracking down on possible routes. His army successfully entered Otaiba last week, a safe zone for rebels, and Daraya is said to be under attack;

  • Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra have made in-roads in to the rebel army (despite protests by opposition fighter Muhammad Ansari who worried this would jeopardise secularism, saying: ‘Now everyone will think our revolution is nothing but a jihadist power grab … Who will support us now?’);

  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon say Hezbollah fighters are working with government to defeat rebel uprising.

Certainly there are still problems of unification inside the rebel army, but it is a relief that the extremist interference is not accepted lightly.

While the West coordinates its response, rebels must continue the good fight, and defend themselves against the impurities of islamist entryism.

Why David Cameron is right

In a statement, David Cameron said:

“We are working with the opposition, we want our allies and partners to do more with us to shape that opposition to make sure we are supporting people with good motives who want a good outcome, to put pressure on that regime so we can bring it to an end.”

Action should not be rushed, intervention should not be ruled out but will be complicated, and work with the opposition to Assad is a must.

Cameron is right. Continued engagement with the rebels, especially around this sensitive time, will eventually bring results.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.