It’s been less than a week since the new Arab League-United Nations envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, officially began his mission. And if there was ever a sign needed that he has the toughest job on the planet, look no further than the warnings issued from Washington on Monday.
In his sternest and loudest caution yet to the Syrian regime, United States President Barack Obama had this to say: “A red line for us is [if] we see a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around, or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” And he added: “It doesn’t just include Syria. It would concern allies in the region, including Israel, and it would concern us.”
Damascus is largely recognised as having the world’s fourth-largest stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Last month, the Syrian Foreign Ministry hinted that the weapons would never be deployed inside Syria, though there are unsubstantiated reports that some stockpiles have been moved. It is also worth noting that Obama remains silent about weapons of mass destruction stockpiled by Israel.
Clearly, this is an escalation which underlines the need for an end to the violence as quickly as possible.
Brahimi said last Monday he wasn’t yet sure if Syrian President Bashar Al Assad “should go”. It’s hard to see the Syrian opposition forces agreeing to any end to hostilities as long as Al Assad stays in power — or indeed his supporters internal and external agreeing to him going. The UN says more than 18,000 people have been killed in the conflict, 170,000 have fled Syria and 2.5 million need aid within the country.
Brahimi needs to work on bringing humanitarian relief to those suffering as a result of the conflict — either through aid corridors or having all sides temporarily suspend the violence to allow assistance reach those in dire need. That would be a good first step in a situation that goes from bad to worse.
What those suffering on the ground in Aleppo, Homs or Daraa don’t need are threats of escalation from Damascus, Washington or elsewhere.