NATO Allies Hold Off on Weapons, Military Support for Syrian Rebels
January 11, 2013 - 06:08AM By ZACHARY FRYER-BIGGS
The fatalities in Syria keep stacking up, with more than 60,000 dead,
according to a recent U.N. report, but those who support the rebels aren’t
inclined to provide the type of aid that might allow them to win.
Despite continued insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go,
the U.S. and its NATO allies are holding firm that providing weapons or
direct military support is off the table. And with the viability of
diplomatic success highly uncertain, the death toll is likely to keep
“We are providing nonlethal assistance,” Victoria Nuland, U.S. State
Department spokeswoman, said during a recent press briefing. “We are
continuing to look now in conjunction with the Syrian Opposition Council at
what more kinds of nonlethal support we can provide.”
The Turkish ambassador to the U.S. echoed Nuland’s position during a
December roundtable with reporters, voicing the country’s continued support
for the rebels, while saying Turkey will neither intervene directly nor
But Ambassador Namik Tan was candid in his assessment of the Syrian
opposition’s odds of winning without more direct support.
“[Do] they have enough military means in their hands?” Tan said. “No, they
Tan, who described a number of efforts undertaken by the Turkish government
to help the flood of refugees now camped in Turkey, said Syria’s future lies
with success of the opposition.
“I don’t see any other alternative than the opposition winning this
conflict,” he said.
Nuland declined to answer whether the State Department agreed with the
assessment that further support, most likely military support, is required.
“I’m not going to get into our internal assessments other than to say what
we’ve been saying for a couple of weeks here, which is that we do see the
regime under significant pressure, we do see the opposition making gains on
the ground, and particularly in the context of this extremely difficult and
fierce fighting going on in both Aleppo and Damascus now.”
The probability of opposition success without further military aid depends
on the time frame, said Guy Ben-Ari, a senior fellow at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies.
“I think the answer depends on how you define ‘success’ and how quickly you
want to achieve it,” Ben-Ari said. “If ‘success’ means overthrowing Assad
and you want to achieve it in a week, then the answer is no, the rebels
cannot do it without additional support. If success means getting the Assad
regime to discuss a cease-fire and make certain concessions to the rebels
and you want to achieve it within a year, then the answer is yes, they
Diplomatic efforts have been held up by resistance from the Russian
government, which is a major arms supplier for the Assad regime and has
publicly resisted calls for international intervention. But news broke right
before the new year that international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi had presented a
cease-fire plan to Assad that is being discussed between the Syrian and
Russian governments. Whether a deal can be reached, and what the exact terms
would be, is unclear.
Deciphering the status of the conflict is difficult, given the problems
gathering information on the ground and the bombing campaigns by Syrian
government forces, which have occasionally driven opposition forces into
hiding. However, opposition groups have made progress, aided by weapons that
have made their way into the country with no nation taking credit for the
“The rebels have gained quite a bit of military momentum in recent weeks,
which seems largely attributable to the weapons and training that other
countries are providing, especially anti-aircraft capabilities,” said Nora
Bensahel, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
U.S. defense hawks have been calling to increase the flow of weapons into
rebel hands for months, but the process has been complicated by the
involvement of radical groups in the uprising. Quietly, sources said they
believe the U.S. is selectively moving weapons into the country.
But the odds of the rebels winning a military campaign swiftly without a
much larger helping hand seem slim, and few other options remain.