Getting further involved in Syria would be fraught with difficulties and dangers

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Free Syrian Army fighters react during the firing of a rocket.
Free Syrian Army fighters react during the firing of a rocket. Photo: Reuters

On a cursory survey of the news agenda today, you would suppose we are drifting towards conflict with Syria. The French President has said he has evidence President Assad's regime has used chemical weapons, that one of President Obama's 'red lines' has therefore been crossed and that the world is now obliged to act.

So does that mean that we are about to start arming the rebels or bombing Damascus?

In short, no. David Cameron has been told by his most senior security and intelligence advisors that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on at least six verifiable occasions. But they are also warning him that taking any further steps to get involved in Syria would be fraught with difficulties and dangers.

They remain profoundly suspicious of some of the rebels and are not at all encouraged by the way things have turned out in Libya (where rebel groups seemed much more palatable and less extreme). They think it is conceivable any post Assad regime in Damascus might turn out to be even more hostile to the West than the current one and they see very little upside to further involvement. They do not sense that President Obama and his White House team see things any differently, whatever the public rhetoric.

It is conceivable any post Assad regime in Damascus might turn out to be even more hostile to the West than the current one.
It is conceivable any post Assad regime in Damascus might turn out to be even more hostile to the West than the current one.

But there is no doubt that what is happening in Syria has profound consequences for us and for the region more generally. A year ago, the Assad regime looked like it was about to be toppled. Now, with massive Iranian and Russian backing, there seems every chance it will hang on to power and finally subdue the rebellion. This in turn will allow the Iranian regime to breathe a sigh of relief and turn its attention back to the development of nuclear weapons.

Mr Cameron's advisors have told him that this issue could easily come to a head in 2014. They do not believe this is a 'red line' either the President or the Prime Minister can afford to ignore.

Which means that one net consequence of what is going on in Syria may be that war with Iran comes a major step closer.