Update: Escalating Crisis in Syria

The war in Syria not only threatens the fragile peace throughout the Middle East; now Europe, Russia and America are becoming more deeply mired in the crisis.

As a follow up to our previous post “Syria’s Chemical Weapons,” here are several recent news reports about the escalating crisis in Syria.

Russia’s warning to “hotheads”

BBC reported on recent decisions by the European Union and Russia that are heating up international tensions.

“Russia says it will go ahead with deliveries of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, and that the arms will help deter foreign intervention.

“Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the missiles were a ‘stabilising factor’ that could dissuade ‘some hotheads’ from entering the conflict.

“Russia also criticised an EU decision not to renew an arms embargo on Syria. …

“Mr. Ryabkov said the contract for the missile systems had been signed several years ago.

“‘We consider these supplies a stabilising factor and believe such steps will deter some hotheads from considering scenarios that would turn the conflict international with the involvement of outside forces,’ he was quoted as telling journalists, in a coded reference to the use of Nato warplanes in Libya.

“Mr. Lavrov added that the EU’s decision not to renew its arms embargo on Syria would directly harm the prospects for a proposed peace conference next month. …

“Along with the US, it has been leading efforts to organise an international peace conference on Syria next month.

“The Syrian opposition has not said whether to attend the conference, and was locked in talks in Istanbul, Turkey, as an unofficial deadline to decide on its attendance passed. …

“On Monday, the EU said member states would be able to decide their own policy on sending arms to Syria, after foreign ministers were unable to reach the unanimous decision required to extend the current arms embargo past Saturday. …

“However, in a declaration announced after 12 hours of talks, it agreed not to ‘proceed at this stage with the delivery’ of equipment.

“The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council is to review this position before 1 August, in light of fresh developments to end the conflict including the ongoing US-Russia peace initiative.

“The EU embargo, first imposed in May 2011, applies to the rebels as much as the Syrian government.”

“Stakes are clearly getting higher”

Included with the BBC article was an analysis by Jim Muir:

“While lifting the EU arms embargo is theoretically good news for the fractious Syrian opposition, it is clearly going to be some time before it has any effect on the battlefield balance. Its authors hope the decision will send a strong enough signal to the Assad regime that it is time to hand over power. That is extremely unlikely. It is hard facts on the ground that count for a regime that has shown determination to fight to the end to stay in power.

“While European arms supplies remain for the moment theoretical, the step has stirred an angry reaction—possibly even an escalation—from the Russians. They’ve said the move jeopardises efforts to convene a peace conference, and that they plan to honour a prior contract to supply Syria with advanced S-300 air defence missiles. Israel sees that as a threat to its own security, and has warned that it ‘would know what to do.’

“The stakes are clearly getting higher. But for the rebels at least the eventual possibility of carefully-controlled arms deliveries is there, in what looks like being a bloody, long-haul struggle.”

Obstacles to the peace conference

Voice of America reported May 28 on the obstacles that are hindering the planned international peace conference on Syria:

“With Syria’s civil war deepening, the United States and Russia are trying to arrange a conference to bring about a political settlement between forces loyal to President Bashir al-Assad and the armed opposition.

“Why have the U.S. and Russia decided to work together? Mona Yacoubian, a senior analyst at the Stimson Center in Washington, said there are several reasons.

“‘The first is this fairly now looks like well-documented use of chemical weapons, which is something that both the United States and Russia have indicated in the past as an area of concern,’ said Yacoubian. ‘The second is the growing prominence of jihadists and extreme elements inside Syria and the mounting concerns that even after Assad, Syria could be, really, an arena of jihadist extremism that would threaten certainly not only those in the region, but beyond—including, potentially, Russia.’

“Russian and U.S. officials want an international conference on Syria to build on the results of a June 2012 meeting in Geneva. That conference called for the transfer of power from President Assad to a new government that would emerge from talks between the Assad government and the opposition. …

“But there are other issues that need to be resolved before the conference even takes place.

“One of those is who will represent the opposition, said Fawaz Gerges from the London School of Economics.

“‘Outside Syria, the political opposition is mainly represented by the Syrian National Council. Yet you have other oppositional groups based in Beirut, based in Paris, based in Cairo, who also claim to represent the Syrian people,’ said Gerges. ‘So the political opposition outside Syria is fragmented, is very diverse—there is no unified political opposition outside Syria.’

“Gerges said the armed opposition inside Syria is also fragmented and divided.

“There are also the questions of who will represent the Assad government—and which regional powers would be invited. …

“‘The big question mark is whether or not Iran would participate. Russia is insisting that Iran should play a role. The United States is very reluctant to cede any sort of role to Iran in these talks.’ …

“Given the obstacles, many analysts are pessimistic about whether the conference will take place, and if it does, whether any agreement on Syria’s political future can be achieved. But as Mona Yacoubian said: “it is important to give diplomacy a chance.”

Washington’s difficult spot

The Guardian reported:

“The move by Moscow was criticised by the White House, which said arming the Syrian government did ‘not bring the country closer to the desired political transition’ that it deserved.

“Washington welcomed the EU move to suspend its arm embargo. State department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said it was helpful because it sent a ‘message to the Assad regime.’ But the developments put Washington in the difficult spot of condemning Russian arms sales while appearing to condone potential EU arms sales. …

“At the moment, Washington is only providing non-lethal assistance to the FSA, but the Turkish official said President Barack Obama showed readiness to change policy at his meeting earlier this month with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“‘The US is stepping up its efforts and its close contacts it keeps with [FSA commander] Salim Idriss tells you something about American intentions,’ he said.

“The Syrian opposition is hopeful that the visit by Senator John McCain to rebel-held areas in northern Syria over the weekend would increase the political pressure on the Obama administration to send arms.”

Further resources

For an overview of today’s Middle East conflicts and how they fit into Bible prophecy, see “Middle East Conflict.”

For previous blog posts and commentaries about Syria, see:

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine, the Daily Bible Verse Blog and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter (including World Watch Weekly). He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who have the privilege of answering questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

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