IN ITS EAGERNESS to avoid exercising U.S. leadership on Syria, the Obama administration is offering a grim and deterministic analysis of the situation there. “There are only three outcomes,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
, Susan E. Rice, said Wednesday.
One, she told MSNBC, is that the U.N. diplomatic initiative of Kofi Annan will succeed, “but that is not the most likely scenario.” The second is for Russia to support greater U.N. pressure against the regime of Bashar al-Assad — but that, too, Ms. Rice conceded, is not happening.
That leaves what the U.S. ambassador called, in another press appearance
, “the most probable” outcome: “The violence escalates, the conflict spreads and intensifies, it reaches a higher degree of severity, it involves countries in the region, it takes on increasingly sectarian forms and we have a major crisis not only in Syria but the region.”
Unhappily, we believe that Ms. Rice is absolutely right on that last point: We have been saying for months that the conflagration she describes is the most likely result of the Obama administration’s strategy of relying on the feckless diplomacy of Mr. Annan or an unlikely rescue from autocratic Russia.
But why are there only three possible outcomes
? What’s conspicuous about Ms. Rice’s statement — as well as a similar one Thursday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
— is that it excludes any scenario that involves action by the United States. The Obama administration portrays itself as helpless, at the mercy of Mr. Assad and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. If the former declines to stop slaughtering his people and the latter refuses to stop supporting him, well then — what Ms. Rice calls “a hot regional war in one of the world’s most sensitive areas” is unavoidable.
That’s where we differ. In fact there are steps the United States and its allies could take to head off the conflagration Ms. Rice describes — or at least to temper it. They are not guaranteed to succeed, but they are more likely to bring about the demise of the Assad regime, to prevent sectarian conflict and to stop a regional war. They also will do more to protect vital U.S. interests than a policy of passivity.
The first of these would be to recruit a coalition to create safe zones along and eventually inside Syria’s borders with Turkey and perhaps Jordan, close U.S. allies that already harbor tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. These areas could be defended by air power or by a modest force of Turkish troops; the Turkish government has expressed support for safe zones. With only a handful of loyal military units, the Assad regime would be hard-pressed to challenge the zones while maintaining control over the rest of the country. They could become an area where opposition forces could organize and train, with the help and influence of Western governments. Some experts believe that their very creation could cause the regime to crumble; at a minimum, many civilian lives could be saved.
A lesser option would be for the United States to begin supplying opposition forces of its choosing with weapons and intelligence. The administration argues that this would intensify the fighting — but it is already predicting that the fighting will escalate in any case. If that is to happen, better that pro-democracy forces — which, as White House press secretary Jay Carney correctly noted, compose “the vast majority of the Syrian opposition” — look to the United States for help rather than to Saudi Arabia and other Arab sponsors with sectarian and Islamist agendas.
Pursuing these options would require President Obama to abandon his passivity, to spend political and diplomatic capital, and to set aside his campaign boast that “the tide of war is receding” in the Middle East. But if he does not do so, that tide will swell — and the cost of stemming it will steadily grow.
Source: The Washington Post
Thirteen bound corpses, many apparently shot execution-style, have been discovered in eastern Syria just days after the massacre of more than 100 people provoked international outrage and the coordinated expulsion of Syrian diplomats from world capitals.The latest killings happened in Deir el-Zour province, where the bodies were found late Tuesday blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs, U.N. observers said Wednesday. A statement by the U.N. mission said some appeared to have been shot in the head at close range.
A video posted online by activists showed the men lying face down, pools of dried blood under their heads.
The head of the U.N. observer team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, said he was "deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act."
The fresh killings underline violence that seems to be spiraling out of control as the uprising against President Bashar Assad that began in March 2011 has morphed into an armed insurgency. Activists say as many as 13,000 people have been killed since the revolt began.
In the wake of last weekend's massacre in Houla, in which nearly half of the 108 dead were children, the United States and Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats in protest - a move Syria's state-run media denounced Wednesday as "unprecedented hysteria."
The massacre drew continued harsh criticism Wednesday, even from Syria's closest ally Iran, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying that anyone responsible for the killings should be punished. "I'm not excluding anyone from this responsibility," Ahmadinejad told France 24 TV station.
U.N. investigators and survivors have blamed pro-regime gunmen for at least some of the carnage in Houla, a collection of poor farming villages in central Homs province, saying men in civilian clothes gunned down people in the streets and stabbed women and children in their homes. The Syrian government denied its troops were behind the killings and blamed "armed terrorists."
Damascus had said it would conclude its own investigation into the Houla deaths by Wednesday but it was not clear if the findings would be made public. The U.N.'s top human rights body planned to hold a special session Friday to address the massacre.
Meanwhile, violence continued unabated. Syrian forces bombarded rebel-held areas and clashed with army defectors in Homs province, killing at least eight people, activists said.
The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria ordered top Syrian diplomats to leave on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Turkey, Syria's neighbor and a former close ally, joined the coordinated diplomatic action, saying it ordered the Syrian charge d'affaires and other diplomats at the Syrian Embassy in Ankara to leave the country within 72 hours. The consulate in Istanbul will remain open for consular duties only.
Among the most outspoken critics of the Assad regime, Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus in March and withdrew the ambassador. Its consulate in Aleppo remains open, but the Foreign Ministry said it reduced the number of its personnel there on Wednesday.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said new unspecified sanctions might be imposed against Syria in the coming days. The world "cannot remain silent in the face of such a situation," he said.
Japan also ordered the Syrian ambassador in Tokyo to leave the country because of concerns about violence against civilians. Japan's foreign minister, Koichiro Genba, said his country was not, however, breaking off diplomatic ties with Syria.
The Obama administration added new sanctions on a Syrian bank Wednesday as a top White House official said the U.S. wants to economically throttle Assad's regime and cut off salaries of pro-government thugs blamed for the grisly massacre in Houla.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the Syria International Islamic Bank has been acting as a front for other Syrian financial institutions seeking to circumvent sanctions. The new penalties will prohibit the bank from engaging in transactions in the U.S. and will freeze any assets under U.S. jurisdiction.
"We are strangling the regime economically," White House deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough said.
The international community has been grappling with ways to quell the deadly violence and spur a political transition. The U.S. and Western countries are loathe to use military intervention similar to last year's campaign in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi, fearing a backlash.
The White House said this week that such an assault risks leading to "greater chaos, greater carnage."
But for now, Syria can still count on the support of its allies China and Russia, which on Wednesday criticized the diplomatic moves.
"The banishment of Syrian ambassadors from the capitals of leading Western states seems to us to be a counterproductive step," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said. He said the move closes "important channels" to influence Syria.
U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan met with Assad on Tuesday in Damascus to try to salvage what was left of his peace plan, which since being brokered six weeks ago has failed to stop any of the violence on the ground.
Tensions have escalated as more information emerges about the May 25 killings in Houla.
The U.N.'s human rights office said most of the victims were shot execution-style at close range, with fewer than 20 people cut down by regime shelling.
The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors Wednesday to hear briefings from Annan's deputy Jean-Marie Guehenno and U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice warned that a failure of Annan's peace plan could create a spreading conflict that creates "a major crisis" not only in Syria but also region-wide.
"And members of this council and members of the international community are left with the option only of considering whether they are prepared to take actions outside of the Annan plan and the authority of this council," she told reporters.
Source: Today's Zaman
BEIRUT: Syria-based insurgents fighting the regime of President Bashar Al Assad on Thursday took to task their exiled leadership, in a stark show of divisions within the armed opposition.
“Nobody has the right to issue press releases, take decisions, or speak about operations in the Free Syrian Army’s name, except for the FSA command inside Syria,” the group’s spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine said.
He was reacting to a statement by Turkey-based FSA chief Colonel Riyadh Al Asaad who earlier denied that armed rebels gave the Syrian regime an 0900 GMT Friday deadline to observe a UN-backed peace plan to end the violence.
“There is no ultimatum, but we hope Annan announces the plan’s failure, so that we do not take the blame for any future operations against the regime,” Asaad told Al Jazeera television.
An FSA statement issued from inside Syria earlier had given the Syrian government until noon on Friday to observe the Annan plan.
“If the Syrian regime does not meet the deadline by Friday midday, the command of the Free Syrian Army announces that it will no longer be tied by any commitment to the Annan plan ...and our duty will be ... to defend civilians,” a FSA statement said.
Saadeddine, speaking to AFP via Skype from Syria, said: “From now on, all decisions will be taken from inside Syria. Anyone who wants to speak in the name of the FSA should do it from the battlefield, not through media,” said Saadeddine.
“We are the ones leading the operations, we are the ones mobilising the street,” he said.
“It is our children who are being massacred, not the children of those staying in hotels and in (defectors’) camps,” he added.
Source: The Gulf Today
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Iran was exploiting the violence in Syria to entrench its regional sway. (File photo)
The White House on Thursday accused Iran of “malignant behavior” for propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and warned anew that the country’s conflict could explode into a wider proxy war unless Assad steps down.
In sharp comments toward Tehran, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that Iran was exploiting the violence in Syria to entrench its regional sway.
“That fact further highlights Iran’s continued effort to expand its nefarious influence in the region, and underscores Iran’s fear of a Syria without the Assad regime,” he told reporters at the White House.
European and U.S. security officials say Iran has offered Assad extensive support, including weapons and ammunition, to shore up a vital ally.
Carney’s comments came amid growing concern in some world capitals that the Syrian bloodshed could devolve further into a proxy war -- with Iran being only one of the outside players.
The Gulf state of Qatar, a close friend of Washington, has provided weapons to the Syrian opposition, according to Western officials. Some U.S. politicians want President Barack Obama to arm the opposition, with pressure hardening after a weekend massacre blamed on Assad.
Also, human rights groups and Western officials told Reuters on Thursday that a Russian cargo ship heavily laden with weapons docked at the Syrian port of Tartus last weekend.
Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Wednesday laid out a worst-case scenario in which Syria, a mainly Sunni Muslim country whose Alawite leader is allied to Shiite Iran, could become a proxy conflict, prompting world powers to take unilateral action.
Carney, claiming that Iran was engaged in “malignant behavior” in Syria, said the international community must up pressure for Assad to leave to stop the conflict from widening.
He said Washington was working with the Russians, who together with China have previously vetoed tougher U.N. Security Council action against Assad, to persuade them of the “horrific” risks of allowing the conflict to escalate.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has given no sign that he will drop Moscow’s opposition to tougher sanctions or related action against Syria.
“The consequences of not taking that firm action are more violence, violence that spills over Syria’s borders, violence that results in even greater participation in this by Iran...and others, to the point that it becomes a proxy war,” Carney said.
Washington is separately pushing, along with European allies, for Tehran to curb its nuclear program, which the West says is secretly pursuing an atomic bomb but Iran insists is purely for peaceful purposes.
Source: Al Arabiya News
Syria's war is as violent today as at any point of the over year-long conflict, and a UN peace plan spearheaded by Kofi Annan is in tatters. But that doesn't spell military intervention.
Syrian rebel leaders have declared a UN
peace plan for the country to be a failure
, joining a chorus of international opinion in agreement. There's good reason for that. Syria's civil war rages as hot or hotter as it has at any point since the uprising erupted early last year. President Bashar al-Assad may be ringed with international sanctions, but his security forces, from the Army to the special police, remain united and behind him. Pockets of Syrian territory are outside of government control, but not vast enclaves. Troops move freely around the country.
The Houla massacre last week, with at least 108 civilians murdered by militiamen alleged to be loyal to Mr. Assad (the BBC has published satellite images
that make a convincing case of major Syrian government troop movements around the city at the time of the murders), has heightened the sense of crisis
at the UN and world capitals.RELATED: Why Syria is different from Libya
The remaining option would appear to be military action designed to remove Assad from power. But the Obama administration
appears to be backing away from that position, a consequence of the dawning reality of the challenges and steadfast Chinese and Russian opposition to any United Nations Security Council
(UNSC) action.Susan Rice
, the US ambassador to the UN, gave a series of interviews yesterday where she framed current diplomatic measures so far. On Twitter
, she outlined three "mutually exclusive" scenarios for Syria. Cleaning the Twitter abbreviations from her language, she wrote: "First and best: Syria wakes up, stops killing, adheres to its obligations under multiple UNSC resolutions. Not a high probability. Second possible outcome – Russia
need to agree – UNSC and
international community assume responsibilities, exert pressure on Assad. Third and worst: violence intensifies, spills over, exploits sectarian fissures. UNSC
unity gone. Annan plan gone. Most probable now."
That "most probable" is due to the fact that Russia, in particular, has shown no appetite for a UNSC resolution calling for military action. And she appears to say the US will not act without a UN mandate – "Russia and China must agree."
Her analysis is reasonable given events and tracks with the views of many knowledgeable military and regional analysts. More surprising, perhaps, was that she publicly acknowledged these facts. It's one thing to know you probably won't act without Russian approval. It's another to remove the seed of doubt that could be useful in negotiating some kind of more robust action down the line.
But something else is going on here. While some Republican leaders appear to be calling for military action in Syria, chief among them Mitt Romney
, there seems to be increasing concern in the Obama administration that Syria's conflict isn't fixable by the sort of stand-off air campaign that helped Libya
's rebels defeat Muammar Qaddafi
. There also appears to be increasing concern that foreign forces, led by the US, would be easily led into another bloody Middle Eastern war, with an unpredictable domestic outcome and likely severe repercussions on everything from efforts to curtail Iran
's nuclear program, the security of Israel
, and the stability of neighbors Lebanon
, which like Syria have major sectarian fault lines.
Last night, Ms. Rice appeared to rule out arming the rebels – something called for by both Mr. Romney andSen. John McCain
. "Even in Libya, we did not take the very exceptional decision to arm the opposition," she told CNN
. "And in Syria, we know much, much less about the nature of this opposition. It’s not coherent. There’s not a unified command and control. It’s a series of different groups in different cities. There’s, clearly, also an extremist element that is trying to infiltrate... I don’t think that those that are advocating that have fully thought through the consequences. That would mean that we are conceding that the only option is to see the further militarization, to see an intensified regional war."
Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security
and scholar of the region who fought as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan
, tells Foreign Policy
that "while the Pentagon
will and should prepare military contingencies, without a more cohesive Syrian opposition, an international mandate, and a viable strategy for success, the United States
should not rev up the B-52s. Under current conditions, military intervention in Syria would, in the words of Foreign Policy's own Marc Lynch
, 'alter but not end the dynamics of a long conflict, embroiling the United States directly in a protracted and bloody insurgency and civil war.'"
That Syria is very, very different from Libya cannot be repeated enough. Qaddafi lost the eastern half of his country within days of the start of the uprising against him. A massive international air campaign eventually followed, but it still took eight months for him to be defeated. Syria is much larger than Libya, has a far more sophisticated and loyal military, and much of the fighting is inside major population centers.RELATED: Why Syria is different from Libya
All of this points to the fourth option, which Rice did not mention: Assad wins, much as his father did against an Islamist uprising against his regime centered around the town of Hama in 1982, in which around 10,000 residents of that city were put to the sword, ending a major challenge to Syria's Baath
regime. That would be a horrific outcome for his opponents, as the country's torture chambers could be expected to be filled to the brim with his opponents in the aftermath, both those who fought him, and those who merely called for change.
That option is going to keep the international dialogue about what comes next bubbling along, and could eventually lead to a consensus for international military action. But for now, the fear of a Pandora's Box being opened with consequences stretching well beyond Libya is going to keep the cautious approach front and center.
STANBUL, May 31 (Reuters) - The European Union has begun drafting new sanctions against Syria and has called on other nations to take similar steps to ramp up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to comply with a U.N./Arab League peace plan, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday.
Hague echoed fears voiced by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the 14-month-old uprising in Syria was becoming more sectarian and escalating to a point where it was in danger of spilling over into neighbouring countries.
Syria is moving towards "all-out civil war or a state of collapse", Hague told Reuters in Istanbul, where he and Ban were attending a conference on Somalia.
Source: Alert Net
May 31 (Reuters) - A Russian cargo ship that Western officials say was heavily laden with weapons for the government of Syria
docked at the Syrian port of Tartus last weekend, a rights group said on Thursday.
"Today's updated shipping databases show that the Professor Katsman did in fact dock in the port of Tartus on May 26, 2012 before heading to Piraeus, Greece
," Sadia Hameed of Human Rights First told Reuters.
Western officials confirmed her remarks, adding that they understood the ship had been carrying arms for the government of Syria, which for 14 months has been using its security forces to attack an increasingly militarized opposition. A spokesman for Russia's U.N. mission was not immediately available for comment.
Editor's note: Shashank Joshi is a research fellow at the London-based think tank Royal United Services Institute and a doctoral student of international relations at Harvard University's Department of Government. He specializes in international security in South Asia and the Middle East.(CNN)
-- For four decades, consecutive generations of the Assad family -- Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as Syrian president in 2000 -- have interfered in Lebanon to the west, and Iraq to the east. Syrian agents assassinated rivals and pumped in fighters.
Now, the irony is that with every passing week, Syria increasingly resembles its war-torn neighbors. The government is hemorrhaging cash, Damascus is scarred with suicide bombings, and sectarian enmities are worse than ever. Syria is a lot better off than Lebanon in 1975 or Iraq in 2007, but it might not stay that way.
What makes Syria particularly volatile is its complex sectarian and ethnic makeup. Sunni Muslims comprise three-quarters of Syria's 22 million people. Christians make up another tenth, and the Druze a few percent. But it's the Alawite sect of the Assad family -- a syncretic offshoot of Shia Islam -- that, despite being only 12 percent of the population, has dominated the state since the 1960s.
It's reported that 70% of Syria's full-time soldiers, 80% of officers, and the entirety of some elite units, are Alawite. The Shabiha (from the Arabic for "ghosts"), locally recruited Alawite militias, have also been crucial over the last year. Shabiha from neighboring villages -- allegedly with "Shia slogans" on the foreheads -- were likely responsible for last week's Houla massacre.
Shashank JoshiBut the sectarian dimension to the conflict should not be overstated. Many poor, rural Alawite people are not enamored with the government, and the urban Sunni trading classes have been important to the regime's survival.
Yet, there is a parallel here to the civil war that tore through Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. There, the end of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-minority government paved the way to Shia majority rule. In some parts of Baghdad, that meant ethnic cleansing of entire Sunni neighborhoods. Naturally, minorities -- and Alawites in particular -- fear the retribution they could face in a post-Assad government.
These fears are not illusory. One Sunni man in Houla, seething at the massacre, told a journalist: "We will kill their men, women and children as they killed our men, women and children." Although much of the insurgents' anger is directed at individual villages and families, rather than the entire Alawite sect, that situation could change quickly.
Syria massacre 'seen before' in BosniaSyria's 'tipping point' massacreU.S sticks to 'Plan A' on SyriaThe government has sought to exploit these fears by presenting itself as the guarantor of minority rights in the face of an Arab-fuelled Sunni fundamentalist onslaught.
And it is true that both Sunni fundamentalists, including al Qaeda, and Sunni-majority Arab powers, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have come out strongly against al-Assad's regime, for both strategic and ideological reasons.
For the Arabs, Assad's regime is seen as Iran's tool in the Arab world and its means of supporting the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah. A senior commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guards admitted this week that Iranian forces were helping Syria in its crackdown. Hezbollah, which has longstanding ties to Damascus, has also supported Assad although there's little evidence that it's offering meaningful help on the ground.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in turn, are likely sending arms and assistance to the Syrian rebels. This proxy war between Sunni and Shia powers exacerbates the sectarian tensions.
For al Qaeda, this is a chance to make up for its mistakes in Iraq, where its orgy of violence became hugely unpopular. This is their chance to join a fight against President al-Assad's self-described "secular" government, exploit their supply lines across the border with Iraq, and build up strength and credibility on the ground. In the last month, a new jihadist organization called Jabhat al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for several suicide bombings this year.
Regardless of their intention, the overall effect of these bombings is to solidify minority support for the Assad government, deter foreign intervention (who would put their troops at risk?), and tarnish the opposition as terrorists. However, it is important to understand that jihadists make up only a small fraction of the opposition, and will have highly limited political appeal. If foreign boots were present on Syrian soil, however, this would quickly change.
Finally, as in Iraq, the Syrian conflict is spilling over. Refugees are flooding into Turkey. Gun battles are occurring on the streets of Beirut between what are perceived as anti-Assad Sunni, and pro-Assad Shia factions. Lebanon's northern borderlands are turning into smuggling routes for Syrian rebels. If Arab states use Jordan as a conduit for assistance, that could have a destabilising effect to the south too.
Syria is not sliding towards a civil war -- it is in the midst of one. There is little international appetite for a military intervention, although this could change if, say, Syria's chemical weapons are displaced or -- worse -- used. In the medium-term, there will be more massacres and more suicide bombings. That will sharpen the grievances of the largely Sunni opposition, strengthen extremists, and amplify the fears of Alawites and Christians fearful of regime change. As in Iraq and Lebanon, such a trajectory would leave Syria's society and politics with permanent scars.
Syrian human rights groups are reporting that a Russian ship, believed to be carrying arms for the Syrian government, docked at the Syrian port of Tartus on May 26.
Source: itv News
Washington (CNN) -- Diplomacy remains the favored option as the U.S. grapples with how best to deal with Syria, but the U.S. military has drawn up plans to use if diplomacy fails.
Officials issued fresh reminders of its military alternatives this week as world outrage mounted over last week's massacre that left more than 100 people dead in the town of Houla.
"As you know, my job is to provide the commander-in-chief with options," said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I think the military option should be considered."
Actions under discussion include sending in troops to protect Syria's chemical and biological weapons and providing massive humanitarian assistance, according to a U.S. official and other officials in the region.
U.S. officials considering Syria optionsOverestimating the Syrian militaryMilitary intervention option in Syria?U.S., British, Jordanian and Israeli military officials have been discussing what to do if Syria falls apart, the sources say.
Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the United States has the resources for robust action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"There are certain things and capabilities that the United States has that can, in conjunction with our Arab League partners, could provide a tipping point so it would provide certain capabilities to units that we know who are trying to overthrow the Assad regime that we can vet, that we can test, that we can understand who completely that they are," the Michigan Republican said Wednesday.
Thousands have died since March 2011, when Syrian regime forces cracked down on peaceful protesters, prompting greater protest and inspiring an anti-government uprising as the regime clampdown persisted.
Thousands have died, and many fear a civil war if the country continues to deteriorate.
The United States and other world powers have been focused on diplomacy, not military options, for now. They have imposed economic sanctions on al-Assad's regime and pressed Russia to embrace an internationally accepted transition plan.
Washington is supporting U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace initiative, which calls for a cease-fire and a political solution. It also backs the U.N. monitoring mission to ensure that the peace plan, accepted by the government and opposition groups, is being followed.
Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough said the diplomatic push, informally called Plan A by government officials, is still the only game plan for Syria. The specter of military action, called Plan B, remains on the shelf -- but only for now.
"As it relates to what Plan B is for Syria, we're still on Plan A," McDonough said Wednesday at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, an event sponsored by the Brookings Institution. "The Annan Plan is part of Plan A, but we're not betting the farm on the Annan plan."
Conservatives in the U.S. Congress and some voices in the Arab world have called for arming the opposition.
In March, Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham not only called for military aid to the Free Syrian Army, but urged, if requested by the opposition, a U.S.-led effort to protect civilian population centers with airstrikes.
Persian Gulf nations, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have talked of arming fledgling rebel forces against the much stronger Syrian military.
"The Syrian opposition are not going to be in a position to take and hold ground against the Syrian armed forces. What they can do is stage raids, provocations," said James Dobbins, head of international and security policy for the Rand Corp.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told CNN on Wednesday that diplomats hope the Syrian government adheres to the Annan plan or the U.N. Security Council unifies in efforts to impose more pressure on al-Assad's regime.
"In either of those scenarios, there's still a potential for there to be a peaceful political resolution to this, which is what we seek," Rice said. "But if neither of those scenarios are possible, we're really facing the third scenario, which is the worst case, which is that the civil conflict intensifies, it engulfs the neighbors in the region, it takes on sectarian forms; it, effectively, becomes a proxy conflict between Syrian parties, but supported on the outside aggressively by others."