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Obama’s decision to arm the Syrian rebels will do little to address the Hezbollah threat

14 June 2013

Two years too late and with less than full conviction President Obama has finally announced that his administration will aid the Syrian rebels with lethal force. This follows confirmation by the White House last night of what was already well known – that Bashar al-Assad has been using chemical weapons against his own people.

Obama’s intervention will be of limited utility. Supplying rebels with heavy arms and anti-aircraft missiles principally help civilians exposed to air raids and scud missile attacks, but will not help the rebels make significant gains.

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This might be precisely what Obama wants, but he will struggle to limit the extent of American involvement now. Having decided to back the rebels he cannot afford for them to lose, although that’s precisely what’s been happening in recent weeks. Assad’s forces have not only reclaimed Qusayr but are readying themselves for a massive assault on rebel held districts in eastern Aleppo.

Obama’s offer of support in this regard may be much like the fruit of the medlar tree; turning rotten long before it’s ripe. Assad’s success in recent months is attributable not to his aerial superiority but to the increased presence of Hezbollah fighters. Their enlarged role in the conflict has effectively neutralised the only rebel advantage: using guerrilla tactics. Assad’s forces may not understand insurgency, but Hezbollah have mastered it over the years.

Supplying the rebels with weapons will do little to address this. Indeed, even a no fly zone would be of limited use in this regard. Over the last two years Syria’s uprising has degenerated to the point where there is no longer any way to intervene effectively. This is the quagmire now engulfing Obama’s administration. American involvement will do little to change the conflict but Obama is committed now. He may soon regret leaving intervention this late and will almost certainly have time to repent at leisure.

The next Spectator Debate on 24 June will be debating the motion ‘Assad is a war criminal. The West must intervene in Syria’ with Malcolm Rifkind, Andrew Green, Douglas Murray and more. Click here to book tickets.

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  • Beauchard

    The excellent article does neglect one very important aspect of the conflict: the repercussions from Obama’s (lack of) policy for the whole region.
    First, the situation. The American President made a speech twice about red lines. Then the Syrian government forces crossed his red line. The President did not reply immediaitely as he did not have a policy in place for the situation. A deafening silence. Even Bill Clinton implored him to do something. After much deliberation the Administration announced it would do next to nothing: it would supply the rebels with small arms and ammunition.
    Second, the analysis. How does this read to the rest of the Middle East.
    To start with, America’s enemies. President Obama has said that if all else fails he will use military force to stop Iran attaining nuclear weapons. Should Iran now believe him?
    What about America’s friends. The President said to the Israeli people, “I’ve got your back”. Taking into account Obama’s Syria policy, should Israel believe him?
    Then there is Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, 40% of the world’s oil. They are scared of a new Persian and/or Shiite empire. They are already fighting a proxy war with Iran in Syria. Should these Sunni countries now put their faith in continuing US protection?
    The answer to all these questions is no. As nobody now believes Obama, the US has much less influence on events in the Middle East. America’s enemies will become bolder and her allies will go it alone.
    Obama’s wishy washy policy towards Syria increases the possibility of a much bigger conflagration.

  • Newcombe

    Obama is fighting for this man:

  • MaxSceptic

    Anything that ensures that Sunni maniacs kill Shia maniacs – and vice versa – seems a positive way forward.

    • David Lindsay

      The “Shia maniacs” are the last line of defence of the Christians. If you don’t believe me, then ask the Christians. In Syria. And also in Lebanon, where that line of defence is the southern border. Ask them. They’ll tell you.

      • Span Ows

        Yes but that should have been thought of 2 years ago. Why oh why the UK has been supporting the “rebels” all this time and now The US is beyond reasoning.

      • MaxSceptic

        So? Other than producing some bloody good wines the Lebanese Maronite Christians are just as ‘orrible as their Sunni and Shia compatriots [sic]. After all, it was those nice Christians who slaughtered their way through Sabra and Shatila back in 1982.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Yes, they did act out savagely. They had good reason, but still no excuse, and neither did the muslims who had previously given them their reasons have an excuse.

          • MaxSceptic

            Their beliefs, cultures and traditions are all the ‘excuse’ they need. Furthermore, it is very imperialistic/colonial/naughty of us in the UK to in any way ‘disrespect’ these ancient and hallowed beliefs, cultures and traditions.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              If we fired a volley of cruise missiles at the lot, would that qualify as “disrespect”?


      • the viceroy’s gin

        Sorry, laddie, but the muslims in Lebanon have long ago driven off much of the Christian population, who then emigrated throughout the world. I know. I’ve asked them. They told me.

        And Lord only knows what you’re jabbering about with that “southern border” nonsense.

        • David Lindsay

          You have no idea what you are talking about. Could you even find Lebanon on a map? Or Britain, come to that? We have already established that you have never been here.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Well, we’ve established that that’s what the voices inside your head are telling you.

            And you really shouldn’t type out what those voices are saying to you, lad.

    • Span Ows

      I think we’re all quietly thinking the same thing…better on the streets of Syria than London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam…

      • David Lindsay

        The side that we are supporting has already been at it on the streets of London.

        • Span Ows

          yes I know so good to get them ‘playing away’!

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Well, that’s a good thing, innit?

          That’s what you lefties wanted, innit?

          You imported all them onto the streets, innit?

  • David Lindsay

    The Hezbollah threat to what? To whom? Certainly not to the United Kingdom.

    In this instance, Hezbollah is only fighting to stop the Syrian Shi’ites (and therefore also the Syrian Christians, among other people) from being cannibalised – I am not exaggerating, cannibalised – by exactly the same people who wielded a meat cleaver on the streets on Woolwich.

    Hezbollah is not our friend, or our ally, or anything like that. But nor is it our enemy. And in this case, it is, if anything, our enemy’s enemy. If we have a side in Syria, then Hezbollah is also on it. The question is whether, in terms of the British national interest, we have a side in Syria at all.

    • Alexsandr

      This is a foreign war which we should not be involved in. No US planes using UK bases, no arms, nothing. Getting involved in this will result in tears before bedtime -British tears.

      • David Lindsay

        Very well said.

        When is there going to be a Commons vote on this? As you say, on the whole lot: their bases here, our bases on Cyprus, Diego Garcia, Ascension Island, intelligence, everything.

        This is the opportunity to ask questions that have been festering in the background for decades.

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