The UN report came as the US and its European allies debate arming the rebellion, and as Washington works with Moscow, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s principle patron, on a formula for peace talks. The UN panel urged the international community to cut all arms flows to Syria.
But stemming the humanitarian crisis in Syria requires that the West do just the opposite.
Assad has been emboldened by recent advances on the battlefield and by support from Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese faction Hezbollah. A delivery of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles remained pending. The regime vaguely claimed that the shipment has arrived, but Moscow denies the weapons were sent.
The rebels, meanwhile, are in disarray and, on the battlefield, retreating. The main rebel faction, the Syrian National Coalition, has rejected Washington’s invitation to set the table for talks. It has good reason to do so.
First, the rebels understand that Mr. Assad has no incentive to negotiate his own exit as long as he holds – or at least thinks he holds – a military advantage. Second, the coalition, a movement largely in exile, does not carry a unified brief for the wider, fragmented rebellion.
Third, the rebellion has no reason to trust its hesitant would-be Western patrons. The European Union lifted its arms embargo only late last month, but key members – Britain and France – remain undecided on whether to send military assistance. Washington is even more wary of entering the fray in yet another Middle Eastern war – despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent admission that US foot-dragging has been a mistake.
The war is at a turning point. Backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah militants fighting inside Syria, the Assad regime has reason to be confident. The opposition is demoralized and ill-equipped, providing fertile ground for jihadist opportunists. Meanwhile the war is spilling into the broader region.