British military leaders are reportedly building a coalition to provide military help to the Syrian opposition, but the rebels are instead turning to an Islamist group that the U.S. says are terrorists — and maybe rejecting American help outright. The United States is expected to declare this week that the rebel Jabhat al-Nusra is a terrorist organization, prohibiting Americans from providing any financial support and allowing authorities to seize assets in the U.S. In response, 29 opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army, have signed a petition pledging their support to Nusra, saying "these are the heroes who belong to us in religion, in blood and in revolution." The group was formed in response to the Syrian revolution, but has used car bombings and other terrorist attacks against the government, and the U.S. says they are merely an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The statement explicitly rejects American intervention in the Syrian civil war.
There has been growing concern in recent weeks that Assad's regime is on the brink of collapse, but that the end result would be a power vacuum in Syria and more chaos, as various disjointed rebel groups battle for control of the nation. Those groups include jihadists and other serious terrorist organizations that have contributed to the downfall of Assad and explicitly reject Western help. Since the powers of Europe and America have done very little bring Assad down, they will have little to no influence over the future of Syria. Even worse, they maybe find themselves considered an enemy that stood by while Syrians were butchered by a dictator. The move to support Jabhat al-Nusra suggests the chance to win friends in a new Syrian nation may already be gone.
That's just one of the reasons we're now seeing a push for stronger Western action. The British plan is reportedly being discussed, not in diplomatic circles, but among the military heads of several of the nations most likely to get involved, including France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. A three-star American general also reportedly took part in a secret meeting a few weeks ago, which was organized at the request of Prime Minister David Cameron. The plan would involve giving training and weapons to the rebels, and more crucially, air and naval support—the one resource the Syrians lack, putting them at a major disadvantage against the government. While none of the countries are discussing putting their soldiers in Syria, coalition warplanes could easily tip the balance in favor of the rebels and possibly end the war.
At the moment, there's no diplomatic support for such a mission, but should the situation change the military would be ready to act. There are also concerns about securing Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles should the government collapse. But no matter the outcome, there are plenty of Syrians who feel the U.S. and other Western nations have done them no favors, and deserve none in return. As one revolutionary spokesperson put it, "You were watching us die, and now that we close to victory you want to intervene? You are not welcome."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.