Sadness in Houla

All sorts has been going on. In the forefront of my mind recently has been the calamity in Houla, Syria, where dozens¬†children were murdered by the army. The world is duly horrified and I believe The Times was right when it headlined the story ‘the tipping point’. The UN managed to get itself together enough to pass a resolution condemning the Syrian government, which is still claiming the violence was perpetrated by unspecified ‘terrorists’. There is a sense now that something will happen, but all the options carry considerable risk.

There is, as always, the daunting possibility of military intervention. But after Iraq and Afghanistan, the West is weary – especially of becoming involved in yet another Muslim country. It would also be legally dubious to go to war in order to achieve regime change in another country. But then one has to ask if it isn’t even more dubious to let a government murder its own people. However,¬†I think direct feet-on-the-ground intervention is a long way off.
At the other end of the spectrum is doing absolutely nothing. Then it is possible – perhaps probable – that the country could decend into sectarian civil war. The country is not as tribal as Libya, but it is home to people of many different creeds. There are bitter divides between Shia and Sunni Muslims. To further complicate this, the ruling elite comes from the Alawite sect, members of which still support the President – as do the Christians, who fear an Islamic state. The capacity for fighting is huge. And yet, for reasons stated above, leaving the regime to do as it pleases doesn’t seem like a good idea

So a third way is needed. As I see it (and I’m not an expert, mind) there are two options. The first is the creation of ‘buffer zones’ in Turkey, where opponents of the regime can group together, train and plan without the risk of shelling. But the international community is rightly reluctant to rely on Turkey, whose own President is becoming more and more tyranical. He would also probably favour Islamists, when Syria desperately needs to remain secular

The second option is to carry on doing what we’re doing – i.e. allowing Qatar and its friends to arm the rebel Free Syrian Army. This avoids all the problems of Western intervention and may eventually help to stop such massacres. But this doesn’t present civil war, which is looking more and more likely now that the violence has spread into neighbouring Lebanon, which is still wobbly decades after its own bloodshed supposedly ended.

The two options are clearly not perfect. But, for the children of Houla and the rest of Syria (perhaps Lebanon too), something has to be done. What you you think it should be done? Comment below.