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Terrorism & Security

Has the door shut on a diplomatic solution to Syria's conflict?

Despite European and US resistance to arming the Syrian rebels, the conflict is becoming more militarized. Yesterday regime troops launched a missile at a rebel position.

By Staff writer / February 19, 2013

An excavator is used to search for survivors after the Syrian Army launched a missile on the rebel-held Jabal Badro district in the city of Aleppo Tuesday. The missile strike, a rarity in a fight more commonly fought with shells and airstrikes, highlights increasing doubts about a diplomatic resolution to the nearly two-year-old conflict.

Hamid Khatib/Reuters

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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Yesterday, as the European Union voted against easing an arms embargo on Syria, Syrian regime troops reportedly launched a missile at rebels in Aleppo. The missile strike, a rarity in a fight more commonly fought with shells and airstrikes, highlights increasing doubts about a diplomatic resolution to the nearly two-year-old conflict.

“The odds are very high that, for better or worse, armed men will determine Syria’s course for the foreseeable future,” Frederic C. Hof, a former senior State Department official and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told The New York Times.

In the absence of a United Nations resolution prohibiting such actions, Russia continues to provide financial support and weapons to the Syrian regime, as does Iran, reports The Independent. Meanwhile, although Britain has argued for strengthening the military capabilities of select rebel groups, most Western countries, including the United States, have refused, insisting that the potential consequences of arming anti-regime fighters in Syria are too risky.

“[Y]ou don’t know where weapons might end up, and what the consequences are if those weapons are used against civilians, against Israel, against American interests,” an anonymous official told the Times.

EU foreign ministers decided yesterday to uphold the arms embargo for another three months, but included a clause that would allow for non-weapons aid and technical assistance “for the protection of civilians.” “There is no shortage of arms in Syria,” said Luxembourgian Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, according to The Associated Press. “With more arms, there are more killed, more atrocities.”

A UN report released yesterday, which estimates that the conflict has claimed 70,000 lives, accuses both sides of committing war crimes.

"We identified seven massacres during the [past six months], five on the government side, two on the armed opponents side," said Carla del Ponte, a former International Criminal Court chief prosecutor who is part of the UN investigatory team.

The UN continues to push for a diplomatic resolution to the bloody civil war, with the recent report noting that “Syria’s civil war is becoming increasingly sectarian and the behavior of both sides is growing more and more radicalized,” according to AP. The report pushed for the international community to stop supplying weapons and for antiregime forces to stop working with foreign fighters.

Regardless of whether the conflict ends through diplomatic channels or by force, many international observers agree that an end to fighting in Syria “is not on the horizon,” reports Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Syria “is in the process not of transitioning but disintegrating,” Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East office, told The New York Times.

The Times notes that with election season past, and a new team of national security advisers, it’s possible the US could reopen the debate on providing more than nonlethal assistance in Syria. “As the situation evolves, as our confidence increases, we might revisit it,” a senior administration official told the Times.

But Trudy Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, fears that even with a new secretary of State, US ideas for bringing the Syrian conflict to an end feel all too familiar.

A failed Syrian state also would provide a power vacuum into which outside jihadis could flow, permitting them to radicalize local Islamists and obtain dangerous weapons from captured regime arsenals. And once a state collapses – as we know from the Iraq experience – it is very difficult to rebuild.

[Secretary of State John Kerry] understands this danger and warned last week about an "implosion" of the Syrian state….

Syrian activists have repeatedly put forth plans for identifying and vetting moderate military opposition leaders, and monitoring the delivery of antiaircraft and antitank weapons. This would offset the plentiful weapons flowing from the Arab Gulf to jihadi groups that empower them to lead the fighting, and might enable the opposition to break the military stalemate.

Last spring, Kerry talked of arming the rebels. Now, instead of charting a new strategy, he seems limited to repeating past (failed) efforts, urging Moscow to help him ease Assad into exile. Meantime, the regime's planes bomb cities and towns into rubble, and the Syrian state rapidly collapses. The longer this goes on, the worse the outcome will be.

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