America’s top military officer said on Monday that “the military option should be considered” as the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on opposition movements continues.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN that he would rather the Syrian crisis is resolved diplomatically. “But of course, we always have to provide military options and they should be considered.”
Earlier this year, Dempsey cautioned against military intervention by outside powers, contrasting Syria to Libya where Arab and Western countries enforced a no-fly zone last year and conducted airstrikes against the armed forces of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi which succeeded in toppling him.
“It’s a different challenge,” he said on CNN in February, “geographically. It’s a different challenge in terms of the capability of the Syrian military.”
He also then criticized proposals to arm Syria’s anti-government fighters, saying, “I think it’s premature to take a decision to arm the opposition movement in Syria because I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point.”
The United States and Arab partners are currently exploring the possibility of providing weapons to the opposition. Saudi Arabia has pushed for this for months.
In February, the kingdom’s foreign minister said that it was an “excellent idea” to supply the rebels with weapons. Reports have surfaced that Saudi Arabia already is arming them.
Civil war in Syria has raged for more than a year. International efforts to mediate in the conflict have failed. A ceasefire agreement that was reached between the government and opposition movements after negotiations by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan was quickly broken by both sides. Civilians die almost every day in the shelling of rebel cities by forces that are loyal to the Ba’athist regime.
The uprising increasingly appears to break down along sectarian lines with the majority Sunni population, concentrated in the south and oil rich east of the country fighting to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power while religious minorities and the urban middle class in the coastal provinces are wary of regime change, fearing an Islamist takeover that would inhibit their economic and political freedoms.
Western allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia, would like to see a Sunni-majority government in order to weaken the Iranian axis in the region and act as a counterweight to Nouri al-Maliki’s Iraq which is moving closer to Iran.