Ahmed Jarba, the alternative Syrian president to Bashar Al-Assad, is visiting Washington in a new attempt to acquire anti-aircraft missiles, the weapons which expelled the Soviets from Afghanistan and whose absence from the Syrian revolutionary–rebel arsenal has prolonged Assad’s survival in Damascus.
I do not know how Jarba will manage to persuade the stubborn officials in the White House to allow him to have these missiles. Jarba does not want them free of charge, and is not asking the Americans to sell them to him: he wants the US to allow those who have them to sell or give them to the Free Syrian Army.
There is no evidence the White House is prepared to change its mind. This despite the magnitude of the tragedy, the ongoing use of aircraft by Assad’s regime to indiscriminately bombard cities and towns on a daily basis, and the existence of a UN Security Council continuously warning Assad not to use barrel bombs which target civilians.
Due to the lack of anti-aircraft weapons, Syrian airspace remains open to his forces: planes carry out raids every day unhindered. The air force is the main reason for the survival of the regime, and now that his ground forces have been decimated, Assad is also relying heavily on Iraqi militias and Lebanese Hezbollah to fight as his own army.
Because of the Assad regime’s air superiority and constant bombardment, most Syrian cities and villages have been destroyed and nine million people have been displaced, half of them fleeing the country.
The US ban on the opposition’s owning anti-aircraft weapons has practically enabled the Assad regime and its allies—Lebanese and Iranian alike—to make headway in the conflict. This is the main reason for the tragic refugee situation, which has now begun to threaten the stability of neighboring states, especially Jordan and Lebanon.
In order for Jarba to stop the defeat and the humanitarian tragedy, he tries with the Americans to allow him to be armed, especially after the success of using the anti-armor TOW missiles, all of which are counted before and after they are fired, to ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands.
Fear of the anti-aircraft missiles falling into the hands of extremists can no longer be justified, even if Al-Qaeda has succeeded in taking over the Syrian arena, with the help of the regime. Jarba has personal knowledge and experience in transferring weapons into Syria, and is capable of providing the guarantees the Americans need that this operation would be run according to tight and accurate monitoring and auditing processes.
This, of course, if the reason really is fear of the weapons falling into the wrong hands. If, on the other hand, the reason is that the White House does not mind prolonging the war, well then everyone should assume their responsibilities.
All those who follow the war are agreed that it is almost out of control, and that depriving the moderate opposition from its needs for essential weapons has succeeded in achieving two things: first, prolonging the tragedy with all its consequences for the region; second, strengthening the extremist groups who impose themselves as a force on the ground that must be obeyed.
No-one believes this excuse of weapons falling into the wrong hands—such as the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—anymore because there is now on the ground a trusted opposition known to the Americans themselves, who are watching events closely from neighboring Jordan and Turkey.
Nor is the excuse regarding fear of being implicated in the war believable either. After all, nobody wants American fighters on the ground; they only want Syrians to be allowed to buy the weapons they need to confront this massive killing machine they are fighting, and to impose realities on the ground which would force the Assad regime to go to Geneva and negotiate a reasonable and acceptable political solution.