Syrians have won the right of armed self-defense against this regime, which is committing nation-wide atrocities. However, Syrians should not exercise this right, not because peaceful protest is the only legitimate form of resistance — it is not — but because it is the clever thing to do, and perhaps the only option they have.
Here is a summary of the main reasons the uprising should remain peaceful:
1-Barring overwhelming international military force, a resort to arms by the protesters is an invitation to even bigger massacres, especially in the short term. The regime now shells specific neighborhoods of besieged cities; with an armed revolt, it will shell whole cities.
The regime has spent the last few decades arming itself for the day it will have to fight its people. Various estimates put the number of Syrian tanks between 4,000-5,000. According to an estimate by Barra Sarraj, a former Syrian political prisoner, that is 300 tanks per each major city in Syria. You’ve probably seen footage of those tanks: Old Russian crap that are practically mobile coffins in any modern war. However, they are excellent repressive tools.
2-We have not yet reached the limits of soft power. On the national level, Damascus and Aleppo have not yet risen in full force. However, this does not mean that other cities should or can continue to suffer as they wait for other quiet cities to make their voices heard. On the other hand, should Aleppo remain undecided, for example, a resort to arms by other cities might cause it to align itself with the regime.
Internationally, pressure on the regime has not yet reached the requisite levels. We are still waiting for an unequivocal UNSC condemnation or a clear Arab stance on the regime’s legitimacy, for example.
3- An armed revolt will jeopardize international sympathy for the protesters. Today’s media headlines speak of regime brutality against unarmed protesters. It’s clear who the bad guys are. In an armed revolt, the media output will become complicated. Additionally, media audiences have short memories. They will soon forget that the Syrian uprising was peaceful in the first six months and that regime brutality compelled it to become armed. (However, should NATO intervene on the behalf of Syrians, there won’t be any risk of negative media portrayal of Syrian revolutionaries. NATO interventions are always military and media aid.)
Finally, it is worth mentioning something about Syrian protesters. They have maintained their peacefulness in the face of countless provocations, and they have stayed on message with regard to their fundamental demands. However, they have shown little regard for geopolitical calculations. They didn’t care that the regime had many friends in the region, or that the international community is nervous about any change in Syria, or that the regime will be the hardest to unseat from among all the repressive Arab regimes; they have just continued to demand their rights regardless of how those demands will be met in the end. Up to this point, this attitude has borne fruit. I’m not sure if this attitude would be wise with regard to the question of arms.