The US should either covertly or openly be arming the opposition forces in
Syria, says Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser to George
Abrams, in the country to participate in a conference on
US-Israel relations on Monday at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in
Ramat Gan, said in an interview that while the humanitarian imperative for
bringing down Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime was obvious, the strategic
case was equally clear and strong.
“Iran, Russia and Hezbollah have to
lose,” he said.
Abrams, who was responsible for pushing Bush’s strategy
for advancing democracy, said an outcome whereby Assad remained in power would
send the completely wrong message to every authoritarian leader in the region,
The message, he said, would be that deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak
made a mistake by not shooting at his own people, because had he done so – like
Assad – he would have remained in power.
“We don’t want that message to
emerge,” Abrams said. He also said the collapse of the Assad regime would pull
Iran and Hezbollah down a peg.
Arming the Syrian rebels, thereby allowing
them to take more ground, would have a big psychological and political impact,
and could tip the balance in getting the Syrian business community “off the
fence” and in support of the opposition, said Abrams, who in the 1980s was
involved in the Iran-Contra affair to provide funds to the Nicaraguan contra
rebels from money earned by arms sales to Iran.
Abrams, a Republican,
said the Obama administration seemed hesitant to move on Syria now, just before
the November elections, because it would run in the face of a central Obama
campaign theme: that the “tide of war is receding.” If America gets
involved in Syria, he said, that would undermine that message.
Abrams said. the level of violence in Syria is rising so fast that eventually
the administration will have no choice but to act.
“You can’t have a
massacre on CNN everyday and not do anything about it,” he said.
Syrian crisis, Abrams said, has proven hollow a working assumption widely
accepted just two years ago: that Turkey was the rising, dominant power in the
Turkey’s inability to do anything about Syria has shown that “it
has no capacity to lead,” Abrams said. “They are not providing any leadership
Abrams rejected the argument that it would be a mistake for the
West to support the Syrian opposition because – as was the case that emerged
after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya – it does not know exactly who it
would be getting in Assad’s place.
Abrams said it was clear that what
would emerge in Damascus would be a Sunni government that would not be allied
with Iran and Hezbollah, and which – as a result – would take those two
disruptive Mideast players down a notch.
Abrams said he was not worried
that jihadists elements would take control of post- Assad Syria, partly because
those jihadists now involved in the struggle are not Syrians.
the impact of the Muslim Brotherhood, he said the group’s influence in Syria
should not be exaggerated and is not anywhere near the group’s impact in Egypt.
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