I wrote a week or so ago (here) about the dangers of providing arms to the rebels in Syria and today's news reports give further cause for concern.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has taken over from Bin Laden, has called for the creation of an Islamic caliphate to take over from Assad and urged all the rebel fighters to join this common cause. The main rebel group, Al-Nusra Front, has already pledged allegiance to Zawahiri, and it now seems likely that the conflict could lead to a three way confrontation.
However, the success of the Al-Nusra Front has alarmed many of those who had avoided involvement in the conflict with the result that there is increasing support for the Assad regime, presumably on the basis of "Better the Devil that you know".
At the moment it would seem that the secular/moderate reformists are most likely to loose out as they have neither training or adequate weapons, and whilst it might be tempting for Britain and France to provide them with arms, few comentators seem to think that they will come out on top.
The biggest worry is that Al-Qaeda will achieve its objective and set up an Islamic state from which it would be able to dispatch terrorists world wide. The Assad regime is reported to have huge stocks of chemical weapons, and this country's priority should be to prevent any of these getting into the hands of Al-Qaeda who would most certainly use them both in western capital cities and against Israel.
Whilst Assad is a very nasty dictator, he has, until now, kept relative peace in Syria and not harassed other Islamic sects or the largish Christian minority. Also, apart from occasional sabre rattling, he has left Israel alone.
Much as it goes against the grain to support such a person, the fact remains that the best chance for stability in the area is for him to regain control of the country. In my view it is "pie in the sky" to think that the rebel groups, who took up arms in the hope of
achieving a multi-party democracy, will ever succeed in their aims; one only has to look at Iraq, Egypt and Libya to see that our type of democracy simply does not work in these countries.
So I come back to my previous conclusion; to supply arms to anyone in Syria at this time would be the hight of madness. Any British involvement should be limited to the supply humanitarian aid to the refugees through such organisations as the International Red Cross.