ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 139

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Arabic media review

Syrian civil war at a ‘tipping point’

Increased intervention by Iran and Hezbollah threatens to plunge Arab world into sectarian strife

Michael Bassin is a founding member of the Gulf-Israel Business Council, a co-founder at ScaleUpSales Ltd, and the author of "I Am Not a Spy: An American Jew Goes Deep In The Arab World & Israeli Army."

Members of the Lebanese Red Cross carry a Syrian man who was wounded in Qusair during battles between the rebels and Syrian government forces, Saturday, June 8, 2013 (photo credit: AP)
Members of the Lebanese Red Cross carry a Syrian man who was wounded in Qusair during battles between the rebels and Syrian government forces, Saturday, June 8, 2013 (photo credit: AP)

Pressure is mounting on United States President Barack Obama to begin supplying lethal arms to Syria’s opposition, Arab media reports on Wednesday. Experts warn that failure to do so would spell certain victory for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi writes that the French government is also holding serious deliberations about funding the Free Syrian Army out of fear that the Syrian civil war “may have reached a tipping point.” In recent weeks, Assad’s military has received reinforcements of over 5,000 troops from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, and unknown numbers of soldiers from the elite Iranian Al-Quds force. These additional forces, combined with expected missile shipments from Russia, could put the Assad government on firm footing in its quest for survival.

Republican lawmakers in the US Congress are accusing the Obama administration of severe naivete due to its refusal to arm the Syrian rebels while discussions were under way for the “Geneva II” peace conference. American officials are now stating that they understand that parties supportive of the Syrian government have been using the buildup to the conference to secretly replenish Assad’s weaponry.

According to the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, Russian President Vladimir Putin regrets that Assad has not instituted political reforms, but cannot see how his fall from power would do anything but throw Syria into further catastrophe.

“The West does not have a clear policy toward the (Syrian) rebel front,” Putin said. “They are affiliated with Al-Qaeda and their rise would bring chaos to the region.”

Leaders of the Free Syria Army argue that the US government has darker motives for not providing them with arms.

“Uncle Sam is acting blind to us because they want to prolong the conflict,” Free Syrian Army Colonel Abdul Bassett tells the Doha-based media channel Al-Arabiya. “The Americans want to completely destroy Syria’s military capacity to protect the security of Israel.”

‘Uncle Sam is acting blind to us because they want to prolong the life of the conflict. The Americans want to completely destroy Syria’s military capacity to protect the security of Israel’

Whether the statement is accurate or not is really unimportant, explains Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel and the current vice president of the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, in an interview with the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.

Indyk states that at this point in time, the Syrian military is receiving massive support from outside parties. If Assad does manage to reassert control over the large swaths of territory he’s lost to the rebels, it would severely damage America’s reputation in the region. This is why the Syrian civil war has reached its tipping point, he says, and if Washington won’t enter the fray now it’ll suffer the repercussions.

“The consequences of non-armament today are much greater than they were,” says Indyk, “because the imposition of any political solution depends on the circumstances on the ground. If these circumstances benefit the regime and allow it to succeed in re-taking control of key cities, there will be no need for a political transition.

“The intervention of Hezbollah in Syria opens the door to unprecedented risks. Hezbollah will now have access to sophisticated weapons that will change the equation in its relations with Lebanon and Israel. The essence of the conflict is that any victory for Iran and Assad is a defeat for those who aspire to a more liberal reality that is backed by the United States.”

The consensus among Arab commentators across the Arab media is that the US must arm the Syrian opposition as soon as possible. If the Assad regime succeeds, then Hezbollah and Iran succeed. With relations between the two latter parties and the Gulf Arab states crumbling fast, leaders in Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UAE are anxious for something to happen in the Syrian opposition’s favor.

“The tricks that the Russians and Iranians played on the Americans to enable Assad to crush the rebels have been found out,” writes Tariq Homayed, the former editor-in-chief of A-Sharq Al-Awsat, in an op-ed piece published in a number of Arab newspapers. “We are certainly closer than ever to the point when the Obama administration confronts what is happening in Syria seriously after prolonged hesitation and neglect.

“Assad, Iran, and their allies intend to proceed with the invasion of the rest of rebel-controlled Syria, which will mean more crime and more disasters. Iran seeks to extend its influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. This means the Arab world is on the verge of ugly sectarian battles.”

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