Bernd Debusmann

The downside of arming Syrian rebels

Bernd Debusmann
Feb 23, 2012 15:42 UTC

As Syrian government forces bombard Homs and other cities with merciless brutality, day after day, calls for arming the opposition are becoming louder. But there is a powerful case for caution, and for thinking twice before good intentions pave the road to even worse hell in Syria.

Most importantly, potential armourers of the opposition need to find answers to a number of key questions. The following exchange at a hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee in mid-February helps explain what is at stake.

Question: “What is the nature of the Syrian opposition? Who are they? How much of this is domestic? How much of it is foreign? What is the regional dynamic? Is al Qaeda involved?”

Answer: “The Free Syrian Army … is not unified. There’s an internal feud about who’s going to lead it. Complicating this … are neighborhood dynamics. We believe that al Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria.”

The question came from Jim Webb, a Democratic Senator with a military background. The answer was from America’s spy chief, James Clapper, who added that extremists had infiltrated Syria’s motley opposition groups which, in many cases, may not be aware of the infiltration.

Betting on Syria’s Assad staying in power

Bernd Debusmann
Feb 11, 2012 17:39 UTC

In mid-December, the U.S. State Department’s point man on Syria, Frederic Hof, described the government of President Bashar al-Assad as ‘the equivalent of a dead man walking.” On February 6, President Barack Obama followed up by saying the fall of the regime was not a matter of if but of when.

He gave no timeline, unlike Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak who predicted months ago that the Assad regime would fall “within weeks.” Since that wishful thought, hundreds have died in ruthless government crackdowns on dissidents and the death toll in the 11-month uprising climbed past 5,000, according to the United Nations. Politicians now shy away from the risky business of predicting dates for an end to the widening conflict.

Not all bets are off, though. There are punters wagering money on the fall of the house of Assad on Intrade.com, a Dublin-based online exchange that allows traders to bet on politics and other current events. Like other markets, the exchange’s odds are based on the collective opinion of traders. On February 9, Intrade gave a 31% chance to Assad being out of office by the end of June and a 58% chance that he would be out by December 31, 2012.