David Cameron would have the blood of Syria’s Christian minority “on his hands” if he topples the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, a former British ambassador to the country has said.
Peter Ford predicted that Christians would be “massacred” by jihadists if the Syrian dictator was ousted.
He said that contrary to claims by the Prime Minister, there was in fact no moderate rebel opposition in Syria, adding that President Assad was defending the Syrian people against Islamist international terrorism.
The Arabist and former senior diplomat, who has served in Bahrain, Beirut, Riyadh, Paris and Cairo as well as Damascus, described the Prime Minister’s policy as a “shambles”.
He also defended the Russian bombing of jihadist positions because, he said, the policy was based on the correct analysis of the situation.
“David Cameron’s policy is an utter shambles. The British Foreign Office analysis is totally wrong and the Russians have got it right,” Mr Ford told Sky News, speaking from Prestbury, Cheshire.
“The Russians have made this move because they are seriously worried that the Assad regime could fall.
“The fall of the regime will be opening a Pandora’s Box such as we saw with the fall of Gaddafi in Libya and when Saddam Hussein fell.”
He said: “Is this what David Cameron really wants, to open another Pandora’s Box? Does he not realise that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to the massacres of Christians, Shias, Alawites, Druze and other minorities?
“I realise it is not fashionable to point to the plight of Christians in the Middle East today but he would have blood on his hands if Assad were to fall as the result of Western support for what Cameron amazingly called the ‘legitimate opposition’ to Assad.
“Let us be clear here – we are talking about jihadis. Most of the opposition groups are jihadis, most of the Free Syrian Army is just a footnote. If Assad was to fall – and the Russians thankfully realise this – it would be a disaster.”
He accused Mr Cameron of going “out on a limb” in the belligerence of his rhetoric against President Assad, whom he repeatedly calls “a butcher”.
It was an illusion, he continued, to act against Assad amid the “wishful thinking” that if his regime collapsed it would be replaced by “dentists and doctors and office workers”.
“No, it would only be replaced by jihadists,” said Mr Ford. “The Russian analysis is correct. In this situation, if we want to avoid a takeover of Syria by jihadis then you have to shore up the Syrian regime.
“It is irresponsible to suggest anything else. There is no diplomatic solution. It is an illusion to believe that there could be meaningful talks. How can there be meaningful talks between ISIS and a secular regime? They are not interested in talking.
“It is total nonsense to believe that there could be a diplomatic solution. Sadly, the only solution is a military one and it involves the victory of the Syrian army.”
He said that Assad was facing international terrorism at the hands of thousands of Western Islamist crossing into his country from Turkey. Meanwhile, young Syrian men were dodging conscription by fleeing to Europe.
Al Qaeda ‘under a different name’
The analysis of Mr Ford, who served in Syria a decade ago, corresponds closely with that of a Syrian Catholic archbishop who last week accused the United States of joining forces with Al Qaeda in Syria.
Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassaké-Nisibi said he believed the CIA was arming and training Al Qaeda terrorists under “a different name”.
He also said that Western military interference in his country was misguided because it could make Syria “like Libya”, a country still in a state of anarchy after the US, Britain and France helped to bring down Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
He spoke out after John McCain, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, said Russia was bombing rebel groups trained by the CIA.
Archbishop Hindo told Fides, a Vatican-based news agency, that he found Senator McCain’s words “disturbing”.
“They represent a blatant admission that behind the war against Assad there is also the CIA,” he said.
“There is something very disturbing about all this – there is a superpower that since September 11 protests because the Russians hit the militias of Al-Qaeda in Syria.
“What does it mean, (that) Al-Qaeda is now a US ally, just because in Syria it has a different name?”
Western powers had no right to be interfering in the conflict in Syria, the archbishop said, adding: “The Syrians will decide if and when Assad has to go away, and not the Daesh (Islamic State) or the West.”
He continued: “Western propaganda keeps talking about moderate rebels, who do not exist.”
The remarks of the archbishop came just days before British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the government was “slowly building a consensus” among MPs for UK airstrikes over Syria.
Mr Fallon told BBC Breakfast that the “Russian intervention in Syria has made a pretty difficult situation much more dangerous”.
He said Nato would be putting pressure on Russia to stop “propping up” the Assad regime.
Russia has insisted that it is targeting only terrorist groups with the authorisation of the only legitimate government in Syria.
But in his interview with CNN, Senator McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, said he could “absolutely confirm” that Russian jets had bombed “our Free Syrian Army, or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there”.
In a second interview with CNN, he accused Russia of treating the US with “disdain and contempt” and repeated his claim that “CIA-run operations” had been targeted by Russia.
“They want to take them out,” he said.
President Assad is a member of the Alawite Muslim Shia minority of Syria and most of his opponents are Sunni Muslim jihadists supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the some of the Gulf States.
Although the president is a dictator who has ruthlessly suppressed dissent, he has proven himself to be tolerant of religious minorities. The rebels who are at war with him, however, have persecuted Christians in territory they have captured.