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Finally, thanks to arms deals with Russia, Syria has more formidable defenses than Libya, which could make it difficult to impose a no-fly zone. According to sources in the Israeli military, Syria possesses one the world’s most sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, with over 200 anti-aircraft batteries. To be sure, similar warnings were issued prior to NATO’s intervention in Libya. When the smoke cleared, Qaddafi’s anti-aircraft guns proved no match for NATO’s superior aerial campaign.
With military intervention effectively a non-starter, the one remaining possibility is arming the internal opposition against Assad, a strategy backed by Senator John McCain among others. For all practical purposes, that would mean the Syrian Free Army (SFA). Despite lacking structure and organization and being mostly limited to small arms and improvised explosive devices, the SFA has proved a force to be reckoned with. It has engaged government forces in six of Syria’s 14 provinces, inflicting significant casualties.
Still, it remains an unknown quantity. It’s unclear, for instance, how many of the rebel fighters are members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, though some surely are. Hama, the site of a famous 1982 massacre by Assad’s father Hafez Assad and more recently of intense clashes between Assad’s army and rebels, is a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold. Even if arming the rebels is worth the gamble to defeat Assad, it’s a gamble that, for now at least, the Obama administration has rejected.
That leaves the U.S. with few good options. In the meantime, Syria’s human-nightmare continues as government forces step up their assault on opposition towns and cities. In the rebel city of Homs, 126 people were reported killed on Thursday alone. Syrian opposition groups claimed that the army shelled the town, leaving people to bleed to death on the streets while snipers picked off civilians running for cover. Hospitals and medical personal and patients have also been targeted. The death toll has risen to 7,000 since the uprising began last March. Worse, there appears to be no end in sight.
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