The news that 21 U.N. troops serving in the Golan Heights were captured by armed rebels sheds a great deal of light on the state of the uprising in Syria.
As in such incidents, there has been some difficulty in determining exactly what took place, but this much seems clear: A small group of rebels has hurt the broader opposition cause and performed a free service for the regime in Damascus.
The group, which calls itself the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigades and claims to be a part of the Free Syrian Army, was apparently so disorganized that it had to issue two different statements to explain why it took the Filipino soldiers as hostages.
The first statement blamed the U.N. for its silence and accused the troops of helping provide aid to regime troops; the rebels made demands and threats. The second took a step backward, pledging that the UNDOF soldiers, in the Golan to monitor the 1974 troop disengagement, would not be harmed; the demands switched to asking that U.N. personnel be removed so that they would not be injured by regime shelling or violence.
The original statement’s harsh tone only hurt the cause of the rebels. One can blame individual countries for being silent but to lash out at the U.N., which is fully dedicated to the cause of helping Syrians who are suffering from the war, is a huge political mistake.
The rebels should be able to distinguish between what goes on at the Security Council and the massive relief and other assistance efforts that U.N. agencies are working around the clock to carry out.
The “official” FSA leadership condemned the incident and pledged to do everything it could to free the Filipino nationals, but this only shows how decentralized the rebellion is, as the FSA spokesman addressed the Yarmouk Brigades as a separate entity, and something directly under his command.
With the different statements issued by the rebel group, and the reaction by the FSA leadership, anyone who is opposed to helping the Syrian opposition has benefited from a golden opportunity, namely to repeat the notion that “there is no one in charge,” meaning that critically important types of assistance should not be sent to the rebels.
Who speaks for the FSA, and what is it capable of doing? How much influence does it have? Do the FSA and the exile National Coalition have a plan for confronting the situation, where hundreds of small villages and towns throughout Syria have self-styled FSA battalions operating, claiming to speak in the name of the opposition?
The only thing gained by this affair is more time for the regime, which is using the incident to reinforce its claims that the rebels are merely a bunch of bandits, or Islamist terrorists. The opposition needs all the friends it can get, and alienating the U.N. and the international community represents a big step backward.