Syria's problem: If Assad goes, can rebels be trusted?

The war in Syria presents mostly bad choices to Western nations considering military aid to speed what once seemed the inevitable toppling of the Assad regime, Israel’s former head of military intelligence and one of the region’s most respected analysts told

Ever since President Obama called on Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to resign in 2011, the U.S. side was clear. But as Syrian rebel forces have been augmented by a ragtag bunch of regional jihadists and terrorists, the prospect of handing out U.S. and European weaponry has become more complicated, said retired Israeli Gen. Amos Yadlin.

“It depends who they will arm,” Yadlin told “The rebels can be split into three groups; most of the FSA are secular Syrians -- arming them would be a positive move. There is the Muslim Brotherhood -- a medium risk group; we can still hope they will join the positive post-Assad forces.


“And then there’s the dangerous part, represented by the Al Nusra Front, which I hope will not be armed,” Yadlin continued.

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    Al Nusra Front, which originated in Iraq, is widely viewed as an extension or even franchise of Al Qaeda. Although there is no guarantee they would be part of a new Syrian leadership, the prospect of U.S. weapons ending up in their hands is unacceptable to U.S. lawmakers. U.S. and NATO-sanctioned provision of weapons to Libyan rebels has already backfired, with those guns, ammo and bombs already falling into the hands of militants around the world.

    Yadlin said much of Israel agrees with Obama’s position that Assad must go. Assad’s alignment with Iran, serving as a conduit for money weapons and terror exported from Tehran to Hezbollah in Beirut and Hamas in Gaza is one reason. But there is another, Yadlin said.

    “Morally, Assad must go because he is a murderer -- someone who has killed 80,000-90,000 of his own citizens,” Yadlin said.

    With the Syrian Civil War threatening to engulf neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and even Israel, ending the fighting and beginning the rebuilding process is a priority for diplomats. Tipping the balance toward the rebels may be the fastest way, but the risk is great, Yadlin said.

    “Weapons given to the good guys can sometimes, at the end of the day, end up in the hands of the bad guys,” he said.

    And even arming the rebels might not be enough to usher Assad out any time soon. Despite summary mass executions and the use of chemical weapons on his own people, Assad still has strong support from Russia and Iran. And, Yadlin said, getting Assad out of office might still not end the civil war, as the rebel groups fight among themselves for power.

    “This is going to be a long civil war,” Yadlin said. “Assuming [Assad] goes, whoever will be the next ruler in Damascus will have to fight for years against Islamists from one side and maybe Alawites (the minority Shia offshoot from which Assad hails) on the other side.”

    Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster