Syria Armed Opposition Not a Threat, IISS Says

Syria’s armed opposition is an irritation rather than a threat to the survival of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

The lightly armed rebels of the Free Syrian Army cannot control the country’s largest centers of population, and assisting them from abroad would be very difficult, according to the 54 year-old London-based research institute.

The rebels are “no direct threat to the regime,” Toby Dodge, IISS senior fellow for the Middle East, said at a press conference in London today. Meanwhile “there clearly is not the momentum needed” to break the deadlock over international action at the United Nations Security Council, he said. Fighting inside the country continues as a form of “bloody attrition.”

As Syrian forces shelled protesters in the suburbs of Damascus, the U.S. sought to convince veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China to drop their support for Assad. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it would not accept one-sided efforts by outside powers and that it won’t revise its position.

The Syrian National Council, the leading alliance of opposition groups, will lobby the “Friends of Syria” for weapons and recognition when the group of about 70 nations reconvenes in Istanbul later this month, council member Mustafa Hamitoglu said. The SNC established a military bureau to aid rebel fighters on March 1.

‘Practical Difficulties’

“While there are now regional calls to arm the opposition, the practical difficulties of doing this, and of the external intervention sometimes mooted, are formidable,” said John Chipman, IISS director general, at the publication of the institute’s annual Military Balance publication.

Assad will seek meanwhile to maintain the conflict at a level “below that which would risk triggering international intervention,” Chipman said.

The situation in Syria is “much more complicated” then the uprising in Libya, President Barack Obama said yesterday. While the U.S. is reviewing possible military action against Syria, the administration is focusing on “diplomatic and political approaches,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in written testimony prepared for a Congressional hearing today.

Turkey yesterday called for humanitarian corridors to aid the victims of violence in its southern neighbor. Even so, there is no sign it will take action to impose this, Dodge said. Such a move would be welcomed by the West, he said.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul today described the violence as an international problem and said Syria should accept outside proposals on methods of resolving the crisis.

Syria’s armed opposition lost control of the central city of Homs, the country’s third-biggest, last week following a month-long siege.

China today said it has pulled most of its workers out of Syria for security reasons, as Air France-KLM Group suspended flights to Damascus.

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