For the first time in the nearly five-year Syrian war, opposition forces, such as the Army of Conquest and the Free Syrian Army, are receiving substantial quantities of heavy weapons from the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, debkafile’s military sources report. The balance of strength in the Syrian war has accordingly shifted in favor of rebel forces which are are winning victories against Bashar Assad’s army. In the last two weeks, the rebels have captured Jisr al-Shughour, in the northern Idlib province, able to move into new positions directly opposite Assad’s Alawite stronghold of Latakia and the Homs plain. Rebels have also gained ground in southern Syria in the Quneitra region opposite the Israeli Golan.
Our intelligence sources report that the opposition is now armed as never before with such heavy weapons as T-55, T-62, and T-72 tanks, BMP infantry fighting vehicles, rocket launchers, mortars, and vehicle-mounted heavy antiaircraft machine guns (12.7, 14.5, and 23 mm). They now command at least four types of antitank weapons, including RPG-7s, RPG-22s, M79s, and an extra-large supply of thousands of TOW missiles. All the hardware has come with night-vision attachments.
Had the Syrian opposition forces been equipped on this scale at an earlier stage, the Syrian conflict might have ended some time ago with Assad’s defeat and the saving of some quarter-of-a-million lives.
Each of the powers putting out now has reasons of its own for doing so.
The United States for instance, is determined to prevent the Syrian ruler and his allies, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hizballah and Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias, from wnning the war.
Israel needs to distance the Iranian Guards and Hizballah from its borders with Syria.
Saudi Arabia seeks Assad’s overthrow.
However, on the way to these objectives, the rebels’ champions have come up against a disturbing by-product of their support: The lion’s share of the weaponry lavished on the opposition is being funneled to rebel groups associated or identified with Al Qaeda.
debkafile lists those recipients:
1. The Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, is the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s main rival for Syrian domination. Nusra is the strongest and most professional of all the opposition militias fighting the Assad regime. Having laid hands on a profusion of advanced weapons, Nusra has established a training facility in the Qalamoun Mts. athwart the Syrian and Lebanese border, to perfect its fighters’ skills in their use, especialy the TOW anti-tank missiles.
2. Ahrar al-Sham, whose main champion is Qatar, is more radical than Nusra and maintains limited operational ties with ISIS.
3. The Coastal Division, whose area of operation is Latakia, is formally a branch of the Free Syrian Army, but in practice takes its orders from the Nusra Front.
4. The Sukur Al Ahab Brigades, which operates mainly in the Qalamoun mountains, is likewise subservient to Nusra.
5. The Southern Front coalition, which is present in southern Syria near the Israeli border, is also under Nusra command. This group of assorted militias led the battle last month for Quneitra against the Jaish al-Jihad (the Army of Jihad) which pledged allegiance to ISIS.
It is not lost on any of the foreign governments arming the Syrian opposition that they are in fact boosting radical Islamist organizations, some of which are close to al Qaeda. But it is not openly admitted. US officials prefer to depict the recipients of those weapons as “moderate” rebels. Israel sources admit that their military assistance reaches the hands of Al Nusra, but claims it is a local group, which operates independently of Al Qaeda.
It is hard to see much good coming out of the Syrian policy pursued these days by the US, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Turkey: If the opposition militias they are arming are victorious, either Al Qaeda-associates will end up swallowing broad regions of Syria; or else they will overthrow the Assad regime, and rule in its stead in Damascus. Syria would then be the first Arab country to fall into Al Qaeda’s hands.