Britain takes a leap in the dark

Foreign Secretary William Hague with the leader of the Syrian opposition coalition Mouaz Alkhatib, in London. Photo: Reuters

The UK has now recognised the new Syrian opposition coalition as the sole representatives of the Syrian people.

This is significant but hardly a surprise. Britain would like to have been able to do this a long time ago.

It mirrors the recognition given to Libya's opposition group while that conflict was still raging.

In both cases it closes the door on contact with the old regime and allows full contact, aid, money and limited military help to be given to a group Britain hopes will eventually take over the country.

It is also a leap in the dark.

Syria's opposition factions have been skilled so far at one thing; opposing each other. The Syrian National Council has been ineffective, squabbling, utterly incapable of providing a credible alternative to Bashar al Assad and his regime.

A new body has now been formed, with the SNC a part; a group more representative of those who actually fought the revolution on the ground, rather than of exiles who raged in the salons of foreign capitals.

Foreign Secretary William Hague addresses MPs in the House of Commons on Syria. Credit: PA Wire

But recognising this new body is a gamble.

In the power vacuum the opposition has failed to fill, many jihadi groups have gained ground, weapons, sponsors, power and influence with ordinary Syrians.

In recognising the new opposition, William Hague conceded the move is intended to "deny space to extremist groups".

The new body is also less secular, more Islamist than the discreditied SNC. It is led by an Imam once based at the most famous Mosque in Damascus.

If it leads the new Syria one day, Syria will change.

There has been no similar move to recognise this group by the United States.

Barack Obama and a State Department in transition are waiting to see how effective the new body can be at the very basics of organising itself, co-ordinating with the Free Syria Army and reining in - if it can - the more extreme Islamist groups that have mushroomed amid Syria's brutal war.

So, a gamble. Britain is putting its trust in an infant body.

On the other side Assad remains in power, his army shaken but not broken, his people fearful of more horrors. Nearly forty thousand dead and counting.