Rule 1 of Middle East politics: things could always be worse. The Assad regime in Syria seems to be gaining a more attentive audience for its argument that the anti-regime militants represent even a worse option than the regime itself.
[British Foreign Secretary William] Hague said there was now “uncontested space” in Syria where Islamist groups were free to establish training camps that would equip and train foreign fighters, including British extremists.
In a letter to MPs, Mr Hague said his officials had concluded some of those trained would threaten British national security on their return. “This is particularly concerning as we assess some of the individuals being trained will seek to carry out attacks against Western interests in the region or in Western states now or in the future,” he wrote in response to a question on how the Syria conflict posed a threat to British security.
The EU's anti-terror chief has told the BBC that hundreds of Europeans are now fighting with rebel forces in Syria against Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Gilles de Kerchove estimated the number in Syria at about 500.
Intelligence agencies are concerned some could join groups linked to al-Qaeda and later return to Europe to launch terrorist attacks.
The UK, Ireland and France are among the EU countries estimated to have the highest numbers of fighters in Syria.
"Not all of them are radical when they leave, but most likely many of them will be radicalised there, will be trained," Mr de Kerchove told the BBC.
And finally from the New York Times today:
Some officials and members of the Syrian elite even say — however far-fetched — they can persuade the West to embrace their president as a champion of common values and interests, even as he presses a military strategy widely criticized as striking civilian targets indiscriminately.
Most of all, the war seems to have inspired some of Mr. Assad’s supporters. Some prominent Syrians, long frustrated by corruption and favoritism, say they have a newly compelling reason to stick by the government.
Now, they say, they are fighting for an idea: preserving Syria’s mosaic of religions and cultures.
And they see themselves, with their well-traveled, secular lifestyles, as ideally equipped to connect to the West.
That is the mission of Khaled Mahjoub, a Syrian-American businessman.
At the nearly deserted Four Seasons Hotel, Mr. Mahjoub ordered Lebanese rosé. Syrians, he said, embrace joy at the hardest times. He smoked a thick cigar as Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” played softly in the background, mixing with the clap of mortar rounds headed for the Damascus suburbs.
“Syrian tobacco,” he said. “One hundred percent organic.”