In a rare Interview with the Sunday Times quoted in the Guardian President Bashar Al-Assad is attacking Britain’s government for being detached from reality. As Britain announced to support his material support for the Syrian Rebels, Assad criticizes this step as a way to “militarize the conflict”. Apart from these ironical remarks which at best describe Assad’s own situation, he warns that the groups who are being supported are solely made up of Al-Qaida Islamists.
Meanwhile, the discussion about intervention and military support is currently gaining momentum. For long it seemed that there was no interest by the West to intervene in any way. Now, we observe many articles and opinion pieces calling for intervention. We like to document some:
The chief of staff of the opposition Syrian Military Joint Command Salim Idris demanded more military aid to the opposition and not “more words”. In his view, the allies of the Syrian regime are actively supplying it with weapons while the allies of the opposition are only expressing their concern for the situation. At the same time however, the opposition tried to create the “free Syrian Military Joint Command” to bring the FSA under its command. Still, these efforts will not be successful if we do not see a determined US-position towards more support for Syrian rebels. Idris argues that Syrian state building has now begun. The free Syrian army of today will be the military forces of the new Syrian state. To make sure that these forces are under civilian control and remain non-sectarian, it needs more support and professionalization. Since the Syrian regimes’ advantage is still air strikes, there is a particular need for “advanced weaponry”. If the US is really interested in bringing down the regime and to prevent the growth of anti-American groups in the region, immediate material support is crucial.
At the same time, The New York Times portrays rebel leader Salim Idris who shares his frustrations and opinions on the fighting in a more personal manner. He is convinced that the fight over Aleppo is going to be fought in the Academy of Military Engineering. “I cannot imagine that we will attack the academy”. Not only are the soldiers and officers in the academy his former colleagues but he also taught for 20 years in the Academy. “I don’t want to see them killed or injured; I hope they leave before we attack”. If they should not go, then he will try one last time to convince them before having to attack. General Idris was elected chief of the Supreme Military Council. Idris said that 70 to 80 percent are loyal to the Council while this numbers shrink because of the lack of credibility. One other problem is that many rebel armies are made up of men with no experience who are not willing to listen to commanders to coordinate attacks.
Interestingly, it seems as if these demands by Idris are going to be followed by the West particularly Britain. Thus, foreign secretary of Britain, William Hague wants to provide the opposition with an “aid package” which contains “more equipment to help save lives” and would go “directly to the opposition”. On the question of arms, he remained ambiguous. While humanitarian aid would be increased, it would also contain “assistance to political strategies”. The German newspaper “der Spiegel” reports more explicitly that this also means military advisers in addition to training the armed rebels.
Meanwhile, in “Die Zeit” there is another harsh critique of the West’s policy in Syria. Similarly as Salim Idris, it points to the fact that Assad is getting more and more military aid while the opposition remains dependent on powers such as Saudi-Arabia who finance particularly Islamist groups. Measures to build a no-fly-zone are disregarded. As German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle said such measures would only contribute to a worsening situation. Wolfgang Bauer argues that the decision not to intervene in Syria is as wrong as the decision which was taken 10 years ago to intervene in Iraq. The need to protect millions of civilians through a no-fly zone is urgent. To push back the Islamists, liberal parts of the FSA have to be strengthened with military aid. Therefore the West has to act. The only remaining question is how many more people will die till then?
As the rise of Islamist groups cause for much concern, the Carnegie Endowment for International peace has asked the question where the Islamist groups in Syria come from. According to their report the group Jabhat al-Nusra is made up of “a few thousand fighters” which is still small when compared to the Free Syrian Army as a whole. While it is believed to be led by Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, a Syrian national, most of its members are said to be Jordanians. Similarly, it is stated that the majority of the Islamist groups are foreigners, mostly from Jordan, Iraq and also Lebanon. Most of the Lebanese Jihadis are from Tripoli and still very young but are encouraged from local sheihks to join the conflict. Recruitment also takes place in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, e.g. Ain el Bourj el-Barajneh and Shatila. In concluding, the author warns of a globalization of Jihad which is a real danger to the stability of the region.