The NATO move raises the prospect of international intervention in the increasingly violent conflict although some observers believe Ankara’s leaders remain wary of a Turkish ‘Vietnam.’
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 90 people were killed on Tuesday, including 29 soldiers, following Monday’s death toll of 210.
While some Syrian opposition figures are dismissive of Brahimi’s efforts, others extended a tentative olive branch to the regime, suggesting that the ruling Baath party could play a role in a post-Assad Syria.
“Kofi Annan had the support of the Security Council and was unable to achieve anything. It’s obvious that Brahimi doesn’t even have the support of the Security Council, so I don’t think he can achieve anything at all in the near future,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a spokesman for the opposition Coalition for a Democratic Syria who met with Brahimi in New York recently.
But the head of the Syrian National Council struck a more conciliatory note, indicating that current regime officials could figure in transitional arrangements. “We will not repeat the failed experience of de-Baathification,” said SNC head Abdulbaset Sieda.
“We will just remove all its (Baath party’s) illegitimate privileges and officials who committed crimes will be put on trial,” he added. “The Baath party will practice its activities in accordance with the democratic process. We will not have a revenge policy and we will preserve state institutions,” he said.
Some 25 civil society groups will join the SNC as part of a major makeover at a meeting in Doha next week.
“The most important point which will be discussed is restructuring the bloc and expanding it as a further step towards uniting the Syrian opposition under a broader framework,” said council member Louay al-Safi.
Safi said new political and civil society groups will join the SNC — the main opposition bloc — including a Turkmen bloc and Nasserist socialists “as well as several political blocs, most of them from the revolt groups inside the country.” ….Last month, the SNC agreed to expand to include more opposition groups, but not the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which favours non-violent regime change and opposes foreign military intervention in Syria.
Demands for Western intervention continue to be driven by concerns that abstention is undermining democrats and empowering radical Islamists within Syria’s fractious opposition.
The Syrian people are being radicalized by a combination of a grinding conflict and their belief that they have been abandoned by a watching world. ….Wearied by violence, heading into another winter of fighting, and enraged by what they see as the inaction and hypocrisy of powerful nations, frontline leaders of the rebellion say that the West risks losing a potential ally in the Middle East if the Assad government should fall.
The corollary is frequently sounded, too: The West may be gaining enemies where it might have found friends. As anger grows, armed groups opposed to the United States may grow in numbers and stature, too.
Rebel groups are dismissive of the small donations of nonlethal assistance from Washington, the Times reports:
“We haven’t received anything from the outside,” said a member of the ad hoc governing body in Kafr Takharim known as the revolutionary council. “We read in the media that we are receiving things. But we haven’t seen it. We only received speeches from the West.”
Other men echoed this sentiment, and accused the United States and Europe of playing a double game, in effect of conspiring with the Kremlin to ensure that no nation has to act against the Assad government or on the rebels’ or civilians’ behalf.
Western powers have called for the opposition to unite but the problem facing the Aleppo Military Council and others trying to coordinate the rebels is due to “the fact that this is an authentic, bottom-up revolution,” writes The Washington Post’s David Ignatius.
“It arose spontaneously in different parts of Syria, and every area has spun off its own battalions, many seeking funding from wealthy Arabs in the Gulf,” he notes. “Unless these militia-like groups can be gathered around a single source for money and weapons, they’re unlikely to mount a unified resistance to Assad. “
Ignatius highlights the Washington-based Syrian Support Group’s efforts to help organize the opposition, but officers of the Free Syrian Army warn him that they are losing out to better-funded and better-armed radical Islamist groups.
“They say they’d like help from the United States, but that it hasn’t materialized. Without money or weapons to distribute to the fighters, these U.S.-friendly military councils will quickly lose their coordinating power,” Ignatius writes.
“The alternative power center in the revolution is the emerging Salafist jihadist network,” including such groups as the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Idlib-based Soukor al-Sham Majlis al-Shura, or Shura Council, whose former leader was killed recently after raising al-Qaeda’s black flag at a Syrian border crossing.
US allies and analysts alike argue that the U.S. has a strategic interest in taking a more interventionist position, not least by countering and undermining Iran’s Islamic Republic.
“Syria is Iran’s entry into the Arab world,” said one Saudi official. “Take down Assad and you inflict a strategic blow on Iran.”
U.S. allies are also eager to avoid an Afghanistan-like blowback if Syria becomes a magnet for radical Islamist groups, the Times reports:
Many Saudi and Qatari officials now fear that the fighting in Syria is awakening deep sectarian animosities and, barring such intervention, could turn into an uncontrollable popular jihad with consequences far more threatening to Arab governments than the Afghan war of the 1980s.
“If the killing continues, the youth will not listen to wise voices,” said Salman al-Awda, one of this country’s most prominent clerics. “They will find someone who will encourage them, and they will go.”
The Saudi government appears to be trying to finance more secular rebel groups….while the Qataris appear to be closer to the Muslim Brotherhood. But these distinctions are slippery, in part because rebel groups adapt their identities to gain money and weapons. One group, in an almost comical bid for support, named itself the Rafik Hariri brigade, after the former Lebanese prime minister and Saudi ally who is believed to have been assassinated by the Syrians, and whose son Saad is influential in doling out Saudi support to the rebels.
One rebel commander appeals to the Post’s Ignatius:
If the United States can help him get modern antiaircraft and antitank weapons, “I will keep them away from extremist groups,” he promises. He hopes America can provide training, too — even a two-week basic course that could help create a real army.
“If the United States wants the rebels to coordinate better, it should lead the way by coordinating outside help,” Ignatius concludes. ‘The shower of cash and weapons coming from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and other Arab nations is helping extremist fighters and undercutting any orderly chain of command through the Free Syrian Army.”