Senators call for US to arm Syrian rebels

Senators call for US to arm Syrian rebels

Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham stump for Washington to supply arms to rebels to counterbalance Moscow and Beijing

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, right, and John McCain (photo credit: CC BY isafmedia/Flickr)
Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, right, and John McCain (photo credit: CC BY isafmedia/Flickr)

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called for America to supply arms to Syrian rebels during their visit to Kabul on Sunday, the New York Times reported.

McCain reiterated a familiar refrain in advocating for providing weapons to those rising up against Assad so they can “have the ability to defend themselves.”

The former presidential candidate has become an outspoken proponent of American military assistance to the Syrian opposition in the past several weeks, promoting his stance on the BBC’s HARDtalk and Fox News.

Graham, a conservative senator from South Carolina, and McCain argue that if Russia and Iran are supplying arms to Syria, then the US should act to counterbalance them. Combating Assad by proxy would effectively weaken Iran, too.

Graham said, “Breaking Syria apart from Iran could be as important to containing a nuclear Iran as sanctions.”

The New York Times quoted McCain saying: “I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement.” Whether this means American backing for an Arab League intervention and supplying them with weaponry or smuggling the weapons through intermediaries is uncertain.

Any overt action by the US in Syria will undoubtedly have diplomatic repercussions with Russia, China, and Iran — all Syrian allies.

Both McCain and Graham sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McCain’s policy on Syria mimics his stance a year ago (nearly to the day) on Libya. He pushed for American involvement in the Libyan revolution which eventually toppled forty-year despot Colonel Muammar Gadhafi.

Unlike last year’s Libya campaign, however, neither McCain nor the US have broad support against Syria.

The Obama administration has expressed its unwillingness to intervene militarily in Syria, and a UN Security Council resolution against the Assad regime was vetoed by Russia and China. In the meantime, the US and the rest of the international community has stood by the sidelines as Syrian president Bashar Assad’s troops  have bombard Syrian civilians. Death tolls over the 11 months of fighting are estimated at over 5,000

For now, US involvement in Syria is limited to observer drones flying high above the fray.

Hayden calls for safe haven

Also on Sunday, former CIA director Michael Hayden called on the international community to create a safe haven in northern Syria for fleeing civilians, and to act as an opposition base.

Hayden told CNN’s State of the Union the zone could be backed by Turkey, but admitted the idea was likely “not ready for primetime.”


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