Support for military intervention on behalf of the Syrian opposition forces fighting Bashar Assad’s minority Alawite regime is gaining traction. A coalition of Western and Arab nations meeting in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday agreed in principle to aid the rebels. Present at the meeting were senior representatives from France, Germany, Egypt, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Britain and the US. Only Germany and Italy are known to oppose arming the rebels.

The push to provide not just humanitarian aid but also arms comes after Assad’s recapture of the strategic town of Qusair on the Lebanese border, spearheaded by Iranian backed Hezbollah forces and a renewed assault by troops loyal to Assad on Aleppo, part of which had come under the control of the rebels. Setbacks to the rebels have rekindled concerns that Assad’s forces are winning the battle.

Rebel sources said that more than 100 people were killed in the war-torn country over the weekend, including 34 Hezbollah fighters in battles near Damascus.

There are a number of good reasons for international intervention. Strengthening the opposition would help prevent Iran from expanding its influence in the region whether directly (Iran has forces on the ground in Syria helping Assad) or via its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. Also, intervention could help contain the conflict and prevent spillover, whether in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or along the Iraqi border.

In short, intervention by a coalition of western and “moderate” Arab nations could help maintain the borders – and relative stability – first imposed after World War I by the Sykes-Picot treaty. The breakdown of the post-Ottoman regional order, including the Balkanization of Syria, has become a real possibility.

Amidst the anarchy, Kurds see an opportunity to carve out part of northern Syria for an autonomous Kurdistan; the ruling Alawites might end up with their own portion of Syria along the mountainous Mediterranean coast – they have reportedly been “cleansing” predominantly Alawite areas of Sunnis; and there is also a possibility that Hezbollah will attempt to create its own Shi’ite enclave in Lebanon.

Even without the backing of the UN Security Council, where Russia has repeatedly vetoed motions to intervene, military intervention could in principle be justified from a moral perspective. In 1999, the UN Security Council was similarly deadlocked on how to respond to the mounting violence in Kosovo, and the US and other NATO member states went ahead – without Security Council authorization – and intervened to prevent ethnic cleansing.

In hindsight, the decision to intervene probably saved thousands of lives. Similarly, intervention in Syria could help stop or at least slow the pace of the bloodshed that has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives. Many would argue that the international community has a moral “responsibility to protect” in the case of Syria.

Nevertheless, the decision to supply weapons to the rebels carries moral dilemmas. There are very few – if any – true moderates among the ranks of the rebels.

Indeed, the very dynamics of the conflict in Syria are such that only the most extreme elements are involved in violent efforts to overthrow the Assad regime. After all, what reasonable person would be willing to fight to the death alongside Islamists and offshoots of al-Qaida and generate the requisite death and destruction to topple the Assad regime? More likely, the moderates and liberals of Syria are to found among the millions who have fled their shattered nation, seeking refuge in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. Those who remain either have no choice or are motivated by the sort of ruthlessness and unflinching certainty of purpose shared by religious extremists to kill or be killed for their faith.

Even if the Western and Arab nations that support intervention manage to keep arms out of the hands of the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, they will still be arming forces aligned with the anti-American, anti- Semitic, anti-Christian Muslim Brotherhood.

While there are good reasons to intervene in the ongoing Syrian quagmire, not the least of which is a moral obligation to end the bloodshed, intervention creates problems of its own, which should be seriously considered before limited intervention snowballs into uncontrollable escalation.

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