As the Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah declared support for Bashar Assad’s tyrannical government in Syria, the European Union has decided to let its ban on arms sales to Syrian rebels expire. Amid the turmoil, the goal no one should lose sight of is the possibility of a peace conference next month.
Such a meeting could include a cease-fire, ending at least temporarily the horrendous fighting in Syria. The civil war there has claimed an estimated 90,000 lives, and forced more than a million people to abandon their homes.
The peace conference would require Russia to bring representatives of the Assad regime to the table. The United States, the EU, and Arab states that are supporting the rebels would be represented at the talks as well.
Russia can try to muscle the Assad government to participate by exploiting Syria’s continued dependence on Moscow for arms and its longtime alliance. Advocates of the rebels will first have to forge some kind of unity among the factions, to determine who will speak for the opposition at the conference.
The opposition membership ranges from al-Qaeda-oriented, Islamic extremist bodies to collection of Syrians in exile. France and the United Kingdom seem to think that arming the rebels will give them leverage to help unify the opposition before the peace conference.
Hezbollah’s declaration of military support for the Assad regime is dangerous to the always-uncertain peace in Lebanon and the region. Hezbollah’s principal enemies in Lebanon are Sunni radicals, like the Syrian rebels who are fighting the Assad regime. There have been hostilities in Lebanon between Hezbollah Shiite fighters and Sunni militia militants.
There is also the risk that Israel will be drawn into the conflict. Hezbollah’s classical enemy is Israel, not Sunni militants. Lebanese Sunni militias traditionally have considered Palestinians in Lebanon to be their allies against Israel — a condition that prevailed during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006.
For the United States, the main goal remains a cease-fire that can lead to an eventual peace agreement. America should not let any other interest distract it from this objective.
Nor should Republican political maneuvers, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain’s recent visit to the Syrian rebels, be allowed to cloud this important issue at a time when the United States needs peace, not another war, in the Middle East.