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Syria

Opinion: Arms deliveries no longer taboo

After two years of war in Syria, London and Paris want to send weapons to the rebels. Germany is still hesitating, but there are increasinigly good reasons to consider this option, says DW's Rainer Sollich.

Deutsche Welle Rainer Sollich. Programm Afrika/Nahost, Arabische Redaktion. Foto DW/Per Henriksen 12.11.2010 #1_0934.jpg

DW's Rainer Sollich

The fighting and bloodshed has entered its third year. For two years now, the international community has failed with all its efforts to stop the tragedy. At least 70,000 civilians have been killed, more than a million have been displaced. In light of the catastrophic situation and from a humanitarian point of view, it's our duty to also consider approaches that so far for good reasons had been dismissed.

The valid reasons that speak against supporting the Syrian rebels with arms deliveries are documented in the many statements by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. He has warned of an even greater "wildfire" in the region and is concerned about an "arms race from all sides." He most likely has Russia and Iran in mind - both of whom provide military support to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Grave dangers

Indeed, the dangers would be immense: the bloodshed could initially get worse. Arms deliveries could also end up in the "wrong hands," meaning the hands of radical Islamist militias that are a part of the military uprising against the regime. There's the real danger that such elements could use Western weapons against Israel or against religious minorities - Christians and Alawites - within Syria. This doesn't bear thinking about. Amnesty International has just once again documented that while the regime is behind most of the war crimes, rebel fighters are also increasingly responsible for a number of atrocities.

But even Westerwelle said he didn't rule out that the "assessment of the situation will change." In France, the UK and the US this has already changed. London and Paris are pushing for arms deliveries to the Syrian opposition - and they are even considering going it alone. A number of respected media outlets have already reported that Syrian rebels are being trained in Jordan by the US and UK military.

Weighing the options

There are good reasons for this approach by the US, Britain and France. On the one hand the arms could help to bring the bloody conflict to a quick end - and it increasingly looks like in a worst-case scenario there's no option other than a military one. Also it could be a chance to reverse a dangerous trend: due to the West's hesitation, the influence of radical elements within the opposition who are getting arms from questionable sources like Saudi Arabia is growing. Those countries are seen as standing behind the rebels in solidarity while Western states stand accused of watching the killing without doing anything about it.

A decision to send arms to the rebels must not be rushed. Even in the best possible scenario it still remains very risky. But arms deliveries must no longer be a taboo. Trying to stop the bloodshed in Syria with increasingly desperate initiatives could in the end be even more of a risk.

DW.DE