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French Philosopher Urges West To Opt for `Lesser Evil` of Arming Syrian Rebels
Le Monde
Saturday, December 8, 2012

Demonstrators pose with Syrian opposition flags at the site of buildings badly damaged after a Syrian Air Force fighter jet operated by forces loyal to Syria`s President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles, according to activists, during a protest in Daraya, near Damascus December 7, 2012. REUTERS

Commentary by philosopher, legal expert Jean-Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer: “We Must Arm the Syrian Rebels”

With the strife in Syria becoming bogged down, the necessity of reappraising the available options is making itself felt. In the absence of a political solution, and military intervention being unlikely and dangerous, there remains but one way of bringing the warfare to a speedier end: arming the rebels.

The people who prefer to do nothing and to protest indignantly as the Syrians die at the rate of 1,000 people per week are putting up several objections.

1. Are they not already being supplied with weapons? The rebels sporadic use of anti-aircraft weapons is catching the imagination of the conspiracy theorists, who glimpse the hand of the “West” therein. In actual fact, the ground-to-air missiles spotted are Russian (SA-7`s, SA-16`s, and, maybe, the odd SA-24), captured in the Syrian bases. They come neither from Western governments nor from the Gulf monarchies, nor even from Libya.

2. Will weapons not increase the number of casualties? This is the chief moral objection, and it rests on an arithmetical approach: Weapons kill, often civilians, so supplying weapons will raise the death toll. The trouble with this calculation is that it assumes that supplying none will lower the death toll, something that is true in peacetime only.

In wartime, it may be, paradoxically, that supplying no weapons to one of the warring parties increases the death toll. This is so when it is believed, as in the case in point, that supplying them would shift the balance of strength and put an end to the fighting.

Damascus, which is being supplied by the Russians, the Iranians, and Hizballah, and can rely, despite the defections, on the crack units, still has the wherewithal to hold out for a long time -- or rather to prolong its agony, because its fate is sealed.

In the sure knowledge that it has already taken its crimes too far, the hard-pressed regime no longer has anything much to lose, so months of increasingly violent fighting are to be expected.

Not supplying the rebels with weapons would, indirectly, increase the death toll -- not only by allowing the fighting to continue, but also by increasing the chances of direct military intervention. Indeed, the longer the fighting continues, the greater the risk of Al-Asad using chemical weapons as a last resort, which would undoubtedly trigger a more destructive international response.

3. Does supplying “heavy” weapons not constitute an even greater danger to civilians? No, because they are far more discriminating than “light” weapons. Sending in truckloads of Kalashnikovs would kill far more children than antitank and antiaircraft missiles, which are used against military targets.

Generally speaking, no civilians are to be found on board the Syrian Army`s tanks and fighter aircraft. What may indeed be feared, on the other hand, is that terrorist groups may get their hands on such missiles and use them against civilians.

4. Would that not boil down to arming the terrorists? Afghanistan springs to mind (600 Stinger missiles that the CIA supplied to the mujahiddin, and which vanished into thin air). Anti-aircraft weapons are those most coveted by the terrorists -- the chief threat being that they will use them against airliners, as Al-Qa`ida did in Mombasa (Kenya) in 2002.

The risk is real enough, but it is being vastly exaggerated by the people who are justifying their inertia by placing “the rebels” and Al-Qa`ida on the same footing, thus playing along with the regime. The Western media made much ado about that video in which men claiming to belong to several Islamist groups say they reject “the plot that the National Coalition represents” and want “an Islamic state put in place.” However, the organizations in question have since issued denials: The video is a sham.

It actually looks possible to arm the Syrian National Coalition, making the aid conditional upon the guarantee that it will maintain control over the weapons concerned, or placing our special forces in charge of it. Doing so is a matter of urgency: If we fail to arm the moderate factions now, the Gulf monarchies will eventually arm the militias with links to the Salafists.

5. Do we have the right to do so? The European embargo imposed in May 2011 to prevent the Syrian authorities from using such weapons against its people is cited. The trouble is that it prevents said people from defending itself against the regime, which is in any case getting weapons delivered to it by Russia.

As they are aware of this difficulty, the European ambassadors have renewed it for three instead of 12 months, so it will be legal to supply weapons as of 1 March 2013. It could even be done before then, citing the clause envisaging a lifting of the ban “if arms or assistance provided by Member States are solely intended for humanitarian or protective use.”

6. Would we not be to blame for war crimes perpetrated with our weapons? No, because they would have to be acting on our instructions. The degree of control required to lay blame on a third-party state is, moreover, high, as the International Court of Justice proved in 1986 by concluding that the control that the United States exercised over the Contras in Nicaragua was insufficient for it to be held to blame for the breaches of international humanitarian law they had committed.

Arming the Syrian rebels is not ideal: It is a lesser evil. “It is never a struggle between good and evil, it is between the preferable and the detestable,” (20th century French philosopher, political scientist Raymond) Aron said. The detestable is doing nothing, or feigning belief in a political solution.

For the longer the war lasts, the more the opposition will radicalize, and the harder the post-Al-Asad era will be to handle. The preferable, in this context of limited options, is to arm the rebels, back them with our special forces, and wage war by proxy.

(Description of Source: Paris Le Monde in French -- leading center-left daily)

© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.

Secret Talks Underway By West, Allies For `Attacking Syria`
Fars News Agency
Saturday, December 8, 2012

TEHRAN (FNA)- Media reports disclosed on Saturday that secret talks are underway by the western powers and their allies in the Middle East to launch an attack on Syria after Damascus repelled wide-scale attacks by terrorist and armed rebel groups.

European and American officials as well as the high-ranking officials of the United Nations, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his deputies, are taking trips to the region to give their back up to high-level secret talks on the possibility of launching a military attack Syria, Palestinian al-Manar weekly quoted informed sources as saying.

The report said Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also been present in these talks, adding that the top secret meetings are focused on studying various war plans against Damascus.

The report further pointed to the various measures adopted by the aforementioned sides to pave the ground for a foreign military intervention in Syria, and reminded that the UN has in a sudden move recently decided to increase the number of international forces stationed in Golan Heights under the pretext of confronting any unprecedented event.

According to a recent report by French newspaper Le Figaro, French military agents have held face-to-face meetings with the members of militant groups inside Syria to identify “recipients for possible weapons supplies”.

The French military advisors were sent to “assess the situation on the ground”, the report said.

“Their main task was to know who controls the battlegrounds around Damascus,” the paper stated according to a press tv report.

The meetings were held last month and an unnamed French military source has confirmed them, the report said, adding that the French government wants to know the “operational capacity of each group” and their “political colors”.

US and British agents have also held talks with the militants inside Syria recently, the report added.

France became the first European country to recognize Syria`s opposition coalition on November 13.

The French government has said it would consider the issue of arming the militants against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011.

The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and that certain Western states and their regional allies such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have been trying to fuel the turmoil.

There are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.

Several international human rights organizations have accused the foreign-sponsored militants of committing war crimes.

(Description of Source: Tehran Fars News Agency in English -- hardline semi-official news agency, headed as of 24 July 2011 by Nezameddin Musavi;

© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.


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