Aiding Syrian Opposition Could Be Harmful

A foreign intervention with the aim of aiding the Syrian opposition could potentially be more chaotic and dangerous than Libya.

opposition-syrianSyria’s situation has worsened over the past few months. The civilians, opposition as well as the State have incurred heavy losses. There seems to be no intent from the opposition of forfeiting their demands, with the Qatari Prime Minister warning that the country could turn into a “volcano of war and violence.”

Although there have been a lot  of violations by both sides in the ongoing conflict, greater chaos in Syria would mean explosive conditions in the region. If Israel jumps in, it will also suck Iran into the conflict – or at least their proxies – making it difficult to manage the overall situation.

During the Munich Security Conference (MSC) held on February 1, the Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib offered to hold talks with the regime members to allow Assad and his aides “a safe passage out of the country and end bloodshed.” On the sidelines of the MSC, Khatib also held meetings with Russian and Iranian foreign ministers along with the US Vice President and Lakhdar Brahimi – the international representative for Syria.

After the meetings there was a rare hope of a diplomatic end to the conflict, but reports suggested that most of the Syrian opposition members and the Syrian National Coalition were unhappy with Khatib’s offer to Assad. On the other hand, sources also claimed that the group wants to undermine Khatib’s leadership and as a result the opposition group may break apart.

A foreign intervention with the aim of aiding the opposition could potentially be more chaotic and dangerous than Libya. The Libyan movement also started as a revolutionary cause in name of the Arab Spring, yet the foreign intervention made sure that the venture was nothing close to a revolution, and as a result, the country is now in tatters. The war for change has transformed in to a war for authority among various rebel and militant splinters.

The international community has frantically sought a way to end the Syrian Civil War

In January 2013 , Geneva hosted a trilateral meeting between Russia, the United States and the UN/Arab League special representative for Syria. The meeting ended in a consensus that no political efforts shall be spared to resolve conflict in the region. In June 2012, another consensus was reached in Geneva for a transitional government for Syria, where members of the regime were also allowed to be a part of the government. This accord, presented by Kofi Annan, is so far the only document that provides a comprehensive plan for transition in Syria.

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Yet, even after such meetings and joint communiqué’s, the international community is clearly divided on two narratives. The narrative proposed by the East demands a cessation of all conflicts and provision of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. The narrative by the West holds the opinion that the Assad regime has lost its legitimacy and that the opposition must be fully be backed to oust him. Both the narratives have valid points, yet the second provides little room for peace and reconciliation.

With the recent developments at the MSC, there is now a glimmer of hope for the situation to calm down. There is also a need for increased humanitarian efforts in the country. The UN and its agencies have so far failed to enter Syria citing gaps between Assad’s allies and the Western response as a primary reason.

Surgical strikes such as those carried out recently by Israel can also jeopardize the peace process as this can provoke Syria, and Israel, into entering in a full-scale war. Recent media reports suggested that Israel was planning to create a buffer zone ten miles into the Syrian border based on the Lebanese model to protect its borders – although an Israeli spokesperson officially denied such reports.

All sides needs to exercise caution and restraint, and weigh peaceful power transition from armed conflict to a negotiated settlement, without jeopardizing the internal Syrian dynamics and the regional peace. Anything imposed from outside could lead to a regional armed conflagration, with disastrous politico-economic consequences.

This article has been updated since original publication in Sharnoff’s Global Views.

Farooq Yousaf is a research analyst, program consultant and content editor at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad along with pursuing his higher Studies at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Germany. He can be reached at, or Read other articles by Farooq.