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Britain Plans Intervention In Syria

By Countercurrents.org

12 November, 2012

General Sir David Richards, the UK’s most senior general, said Britain had in place contingency plans for a “very limited” response in the case of a worsening humanitarian situation in Syria within the next few months. He added that there could be British troops posted in countries neighboring Syria. Phillip Hammond, the UK Defense Secretary, also confirmed that the UK had not ruled out military intervention [1].

The admission from Chief of the Defense Staff General Richards on a BBC interview on November 11, 2012 is the most serious warning yet that Britain is preparing for some kind of military involvement in Syria.

It seems that British policy has now shifted from trying to support and organize the disparate rebel groups to considering full-blown military action.

“The situation this winter […] may deteriorate and may well provoke calls to intervene in a limited way,” General Richards told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“It’s my job […] to make sure these options are continually brushed over to make sure we can deliver them,” he continued.

Defense Secretary Hammond, who was interviewed on the BBC’s Sunday Politics program, also confirmed that the UK had not ruled out military intervention – but was still focused on trying to overcome objections from Russia and China to get a strong UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad government.

“At the moment we don’t have a legal basis for delivering military assistance to the rebels. This is something the Prime Minster keeps asking us to test – the legal position, the practical military position, and we will continue to look at all options.” he said.

He stressed that Britain's main focus at the moment was making sure the crisis doesn’t spill into any neighboring countries like Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan.

The countries around Syria “are allies of ours – we have small numbers of people routinely deployed there, and […] we’re preparing plans to make sure that when some disaster happens, we’re able to deal with it.”

However, Marcus Papadopoulos, editor of magazine Politics First, told RT that he didn’t think the British announcement should be taken too seriously.

“It’s more designed to actually invigorate the Syrian militants – who are of course the proxies of the West – and at the same time to try and scare the government of President Assad and try and demoralize the Syrian armed forces, which of course are fighting a very long, protracted, bloody war,” he said.

Another option that London is considering includes amending a 2011 EU trade embargo that would allow weapons to be sent to the rebels, for "humanitarian" reasons.

David Cameron wants to push for an end to the embargo, which does not allow either said receiving military aid from abroad. Cameron also wants to put more pressure on Washington to help the Syrian rebels, and if he is successful, it could see the UK supplying weapons directly to the rebels.

"Safe havens" for refugees are also being considered, but there are no plans to try and impose no-fly zones over Syria. Without a no-fly zone, a safe haven for refugees would be almost impossible to enforce.

Britain already has troops in Afghanistan, while its overstretched army, navy and air force face increasing budget cuts, so any credible military intervention would need to be in support of a larger US operation, or independently but on a minor scale.

British public opinion would also likely be firmly opposed to any new military intervention. A growing number of British people, including many politicians, want their troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. A new military intervention on any scale would be a very hard sell for the coalition, which is already under fire domestically for unpopular austerity measures and a faltering economy.

A report [2] by The Telegraph, UK said:

In the past week, British policy has moved from laying out plans to help organize the disparate rebel groups to discussing intervention.

Attention will now turn to a meeting of the National Security Council this week that will be devoted to the civil war.

The new, more assertive stance, led personally by Cameron, has surprised some allies, including the US, which remains hesitant to intervene.

Britain’s policy towards President Assad’s regime noticeably strengthened during a visit by Cameron to the Middle East last week. Cabinet Office officials have been instructed to re-examine a EU embargo banning arms sales to Syrian rebels to see if weapons can be supplied for “self-defence”, although officials insist that the Government will always respect international law.

A no-fly zone over the country, as was imposed on Libya last year, is not seen as an option by Downing Street at present.

Malik al-Kurdi, deputy head of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said: “It’s very important that the British are coming on the scene.”

Another report [3] from Doha and Idlib province of Syria tell more about intriguing situation. It said:

Downing Street is floating striking proposals to alter the EU's embargo on Syria to allow arming the rebels, under the pretext of recognizing their "right to self-defence". Rebels are demanding a shopping list of weapons they say will allow them to "finish the job" of removing President Assad.

But with rebel groups openly admitting to executing prisoners, and radical Islamist groups taking more prominent roles in the fighting, Cameron's initiative has caused surprise in the US state department and elsewhere.

"It's amazing," said one western diplomat familiar with the startled US response. "Questions have to be asked in London as to what Cameron is thinking."

The diplomat was speaking in Doha, the Qatari capital, where a disparate collection of Syrian exiles has spent the week with western and Arab backers trying to cajole them into a semblance of unity.

Cameron and European allies, including France and Italy, believe that any success should be rewarded with a bolder approach by the West on providing arms.

One rebel general complained to The Sunday Telegraph this week that the current policy seemed designed to create a permanent civil war.

"Personal weapons are provided, enough to leave the situation as it is now, in disorder," said Gen Yehya al-Bitar, a defector from the regime's air force, at FSA headquarters in Idlib province.
"When the revolutionaries get stronger, and start to best the government, the international community stops weapons being sent.

"Then when the revolutionaries become weak, more support arrives. When you look at what's happened, at the support starting and stopping, you realize it is arranged so as to leave Syria in chaos, rather than to bring about change."

Last week has been spent attempting to reconcile the competing demands of various factions inside and outside the biggest opposition body, the Syrian National Council, and the terms under which it would join a broader "National Initiative".

A vote to appoint George Sabra, a Christian former communist, head of the SNC executive was heralded as a step forward but did little to disguise the reluctance of the competing factions to set aside their ambitions for the sake of unity.

Diplomats said the apparently pointless arguments were actually an improvement on previous meetings. At one gathering in Tunis, security had to be called five times to break up fist fights between delegates. In Turkey, a delegate walked out in protest at his position in an official photograph.

Cameron's proposal is an attempt to bypass both the stalemate in Qatar and the stalemate in Syria itself.

It involves directing the Foreign Office to deal directly with those wielding influence through the power of the gun. If the embargo were altered, it would allow Britain to act as a "quartermaster" directing the flow of arms, one official said last week.

The Telegraph understands that the approach is being forced on a skeptical Foreign Office, whose officials are scathing about the performance of opposition politicians and until this week were not even allowed to talk to armed commanders.

They are unsure how to meet the Prime Minister's demand for a renegotiation of the arms embargo, though one possibility is to insert a phrase allowing weapons to be sold for "self-defence". They say there is no intention for Britain to provide arms itself.

One senior Western diplomat said: "We are saying clearly, with a unified voice, that we are prepared to respond positively on recognition and extra assistance. We are all on board with recognizing the right to self defence."

The idea is likely to meet resistance from America.

The US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, clearly stated privately and publicly there had been no change in its decision not to provide heavy weaponry.

"The Americans are holding back – they are at the water's edge, but they are not yet ready to swim," said an informed source.
A western diplomat said: "The US is definitely the most cautious of everyone. If the US gave word the EU countries have expressed a readiness to act."

The difficulty is that the longer the West's intervention is delayed, the worse rebel divisions and atrocities become, making it ever more difficult to present a case for action to wary public opinion. Yet at the same time, the danger of more bloodshed and more chaos spreading through the region also increases.

"Obama has been trying to avoid a complete breakdown, but frankly that is now what we are heading towards," said one analyst, Salman Sheikh, of the Brookings Institute. "The British want to go further. They understand that they can no longer do nothing and that Syria will only be more gripped by chaos through inaction."

Eighteen months ago, Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France bounced a nervous Barack Obama into action in Libya. Whether Cameron will succeed a second time is another matter.


[1] RT, “Britain could intervene in Syria within months - top UK general”, Nov. 11, 2012, http://rt.com/news/syria-uk-military-intervention-468/

[2] The Telegraph, Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent and Richard Spencer in Antakya, “Britain could intervene militarily in Syria in months, UK's top general suggests”, Nov. 11, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9670289/Britain-could-intervene-militarily-in-Syria-in-months-UKs-top-general-suggests.html

[3] The Telegraph, Ruth Sherlock and Richard Spencer, “David Cameron surprises allies with suggestion of arming Syrian rebels”, Nov. 10, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9669129/David-Cameron-surprises-allies-with-suggestion-of-arming-Syrian-rebels.html




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