Many Americans have questioned the wisdom of supporting Syrian rebels. For many people, it’s not that Assad isn’t evil and doesn’t deserve punishment, but more that there is no clear and better alternative. Now, with reports circulating through diplomatic channels that rebels are targeting the Chinese embassy, and have even put out a “hit” on the Chinese ambassador, it’s worth wondering if rebels will simply undercut what little international support they have.

Syrian rebels

Syrian rebel forces fractured

Syrian rebel forces remain highly fractured. While the civil war started largely as a part of the Arab Spring which saw students and more moderate groups overthrow their despotic governments, Syria’s civil war is now far more complicated. Many rebel groups allegedly have connections to Al Queda and other terrorist networks.

Some international observers and pundits have even accused certain rebel groups of seeking to install a strict Islamic state in Syria, which would appear to be counter to U.S. interests. There have been reports of battle-hardened jihadists arriving from Iraq and elsewhere to take up arms against the Syrian government. While the numbers of these troops is thought to be relatively low, their experience and ideological commitment has made them to be amongst the most effective rebel forces. Syria, Russia, and China have used the presence of these jihadists to attempt to undercut international support for the rebels.

Diplomatic staff faces risks

As with any war, diplomatic staff on the ground face great risks of being caught in the crossfire, or even being directly targeted. It’s often forgotten that about as many American diplomats have been killed in the line of duty as CIA staff, and for diplomats from other countries the experience is no different. Already, the Chinese embassy, which sits in the heart of Damascus, has been caught in the cross fire of government and rebel forces. On at least one occasion parts of an artillery shell reflected off a nearby building and landed inside the Chinese embassy.

Still, non-American diplomatic staff are normally not directly targeted. Certainly, the experience of American diplomats in Afghanistan and Iraq begs to differ, but in general diplomats from other countries are a low-priority target, if a target at all. Attacking diplomatic staff can seriously undermine international support and result in intense backlashes. Now, however, some Syrian rebels have confided in local media sources that they are actively targeting the Chinese embassy.

Syrian rebels Chinese embassy bombing plans

In one case already, a local Syrian driver for the Chinese embassy was caught planning to plant bombs underneath embassy cars. The driver has claimed that he was recruited by Syrian rebels. There are also reports that snipers have been deployed to try and target the Chinese ambassador and other staff. While most Chinese have been evacuated China has so far refused to withdraw its diplomatic staff. China and Syria are reasonably close allies and China has so far supported Assad’s government, though not as vehemently as Russia.

The exact reasons for targeting Chinese diplomats remains unknown, though likely it is in response to China’s strong support for the Assad regime. Both rebels and other nations have accused China of arming the Syrian government. China has also supported Syria in the United Nations and used its veto powers when necessary to protect Syria from U.N. intervention.

Still, the active targeting of Chinese diplomats represents a dangerous turn in the civil war. If rebels are actually successful in attacking Chinese diplomats, they could lose what little international support they have. While Europe, the United States, and other Middle Eastern countries have been or are planning to supply rebels with training and weapons, this support might be cut if international supporters believe that they could be directly or indirectly supporting attacks on the diplomatic community.