The reasoning behind Britain and France’s drive to have the EU lift its arms embargo on Syria – which was agreed on this week by European foreign ministers after considerable bickering - seems to be that by strengthening the rebels, the West can eventually force the two sides to the negotiating table.
That does not seem logical.
Leave aside the fact that Russia responded by saying it would arm Assad with sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles, a move that Hague and the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, could not necessarily have predicted. The Russian missile offer caps off month of military gains by the Syrian regime, which has retaken large swathes of the country back from the rebels.
Assad has proved that he will keep on fighting even when rebels are overrunning parts of Damascus or assassinating his defence chief in a bomb attack, as they did last summer. He has the dedicated and consistent support of Iran’s al Quds bridage – a special operations force - and Hizbollah, which has an estimated 4,000 fighters operating in Syria on his behalf. And he will soon have a Russian missile defence system.
Let's say that, by hook or by crook, Assad does agree to talks. It looks increasingly unlikely that the rebels will either join in or prove ready to compromise. The body backed by the West to represent the Syrian opposition in peace talks in Geneva next month, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council, this week refused to allow liberals key roles. Note that the EU has already recognised the SNC as a “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.
Last but not least, since when was arming a group that is fighting a war more likely to encourage to goad them towards a compromise deal? Surely it is at least as likely to keep them struggling for an all-out win.
Some in the British media have been arguing that “doing nothing is worse than doing something”. In the context of current events, such maxims look dangerous.