Empower the Free Syrian Army

“We ask the inhabitants of March to save us from the people of Earth” , a plea from the people of Dael in Daraa, Syria, 12 Juillet 2012

Over the past 18 months of the Syrian conflict, experts had plenty of time to discuss options for international action in Syria, including:

1.  A UN peace-keeping mission

2. A buffer zone in Syria

3. A no-fly zone

4. Arming the Free Syrian Army

The three first options appear unrealistic, as they would all require:

–          A legal authorization from the UN Security Council (UNSC) where Russia and China tend to systematically veto any text against the Syrian regime.

–          Nations willing to send troops, weapons and planes in a context of civil war. Enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria is not as easy as in Libya. The Syrian regime has real capacities to down jet fighters (not to mention the scenario where Iran and Russia start waging a proxy war in Syria against the international mission).

–          An appropriate mandate and the responsibility to enforce it, especially in the case of a buffer zone (remember Srebrenica).

–          Many more months to deploy the mission on the ground or in the air (it took more than two months to fully deploy the small toothless observatory UN mission[1] in Syria), which means more killings and escalation of violence on the ground.

These options would neither bring an end to the conflict nor provide protection to the civilians, but rather contribute to a freezing of the situation. What would then be the exit strategy for the international community? Would a withdrawal like in Somalia be an option?

On the other hand, option four appears simpler. It could be done quickly through Turkey, without a UNSC authorization. It is the cheapest option financially and implies no loss of life for the contributing nation(s). It will not be perceived as a foreign occupation, rather a long-requested support the Syrian Revolution[2].

No need to transfer the latest technology or long range rockets. That might be important to reassure Israel. Basic short/middle range rockets should be enough to make a critical difference on the ground against low flying planes and helicopters.

This defensive approach would provide the FSA with the means to enforce itself the no-fly zone or discretely create and protect strategic buffer zones in the country. The weapons would help the FSA stop what was considered just a few weeks ago as a clear red line for the international community: the heavy shelling of Syrian cities and towns by military airplanes and helicopters.

Of course, everyone has in mind the Afghan precedent where mujahedeen, ancestors of the Taliban, were given by the CIA antiaircraft Stinger missiles to fight the Red Army.

However, Syria is far from being Afghanistan and it should be possible to deliver the weapons to the right hands by selecting defected high-ranking military leaders with the required command and control authority and military experience.

Empowering the FSA with weapons but also a budget to remunerate its soldiers should help professionalize and unify what could be the future Syrian army and help deal with the fragmentation of the armed resistance into local militias, as in Libya.

All in all, it might be a better option than to wait for Russia and China to change their position or for the Syrian regime to use its chemical arsenal[3].


[1] Resolution 2043  UNSC adopted unanimously on the 21st April 2012 authorized the deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers.

[2] On the 10th of August, they specifically requested anti-aircraft weapons  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCD9wGPvB44

[3] “Syria and its chemical weapons : Watch out!”, The Economist, 28th July 2012 http://www.economist.com/node/21559671

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