Analysis: Syrian opposition’s momentum is building

Rumors of chemical weapons use, the spillover of violence into Lebanon, Israel, the progress by the opposition on the ground have led the West into a more active policy.

March 25, 2013 02:45
2 minute read.
Satellite view of suspect sites in Syria [file]

Satellite images of suspect sites in Syria 370 (R). (photo credit: Reuters / Handout)


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Western intervention in Syria is gaining pace since US President Barack Obama visited Israel and Jordan over the past week, with the talks partly focusing on the Syrian crisis.

One thing that could trigger direct US intervention is the use of chemical weapons, but American officials say there is no intelligence to back up the claims by both the Syrian government and the opposition of the use of such weapons by the opposing side.

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The unannounced visit by Secretary of State John Kerry to Iraq on Sunday in order to stop the flow of arms from Iran to Syria, by ground and by air, may not have had much effect, but it shows an increasing US involvement.

This follows leaked information that the CIA is providing intelligence to the Syrian rebels as reported by The Wall Street Journal on Saturday.

The CIA is already working from Turkey in order to help make sure the arms provided by Sunni Gulf allies are ending up in the right hands, meaning non-al-Qaida-linked groups such as the al-Nusra Front.

Col. (res.) Shaul Shay, a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, told The Jerusalem Post that there “is a problem with the headline of the Syrian ‘opposition’ because there is more than one opposition group.”

So at best, he says, the West can choose to support certain groups, and not others.

The resignation on Sunday of Moaz Alkhatib, the leader of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition comes after the appointment in Turkey last Tuesday of Ghassan Hitto, chosen to be the interim prime minister, described by The New York Times as the preferred choice of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Alkhatib complained that the West was not supportive enough of the armed opposition.

Joel Parker, a PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University who is tracking developments on opposition websites and social media, told the Post that the rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar has been seen, since late 2011, as an important indicator of the strength of the Syrian economy.”

He adds that the Syrian government is taking credit for keeping the Syrian pound stable and that Alkhatib could be upset that the West did not use all of its tools to increase economic pressure on the regime.

According to Alkhatib’s logic, “since the West is not willing to take such drastic measures, it is merely prolonging the slow, agonizing death of the country,” Parker said.

The Arab league decided on Sunday to give Syria’s seat to the new interim prime minister, according to a report by the Turkish Anadolu Agency.

Predictably, the Shi’ite dominated governments of Iraq and Lebanon voiced their dissent.

“The balance of power between President Bashar Assad and the opposition is about equal and any external intervention could tip the balance, similar to the Western intervention in Libya,” said Shay. However, this is not necessarily a desired outcome, he said, noting, “if we look at Libya, it is a failing state.”

The rumors of chemical weapons use, the spillover of violence into Lebanon and Israel, and the progress by the opposition on the ground, have led the West into a more active policy. The US and some European countries were reluctant to get involved, but now they are worried that they could miss the train – and lose control of shaping events in what could soon be the end-game in Syria – at least for Assad, but the crisis in the country will most likely outlive his rule.

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