The Qatar oil emirate, encouraged by its successful participation in the campaign to overthrow Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, has established a Sunni Arab intervention force to expedite the drive for Syrian President Bashar Assad's ouster, debkafile's military sources report. The new highly mobile force boosts the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army, whose numbers have jumped to 20,000 fighters, armed and funded by Qatar and now forming into military battalions and brigades at their bases in Turkey.
When they saw the Syrian massacre continuing unabated this month, the Qatari and Saudi rulers approved a crash program for the Qatari chief of staff Maj.-Gen Hamas Ali al-Attiya to weld this mobile intervention Sunni Muslim force out of al Qaeda linked-operatives for rapid deployment on the Turkish-Syrian border.
A force of 2,500 has been recruited up until now, our sources report. The hard core is made up of 1,000 members of the Islamic Fighting Group in Libya-IFGL, which fought Qaddafi, and 1,000 operatives of the Ansar al-Sunna, the Iraqi Islamists which carried out 15 coordinated bomb attacks in Baghdad last Thursday killing 72 people and injuring 200.
Qatar has just had them airlifted from Libya and Iraq to the southern Turkish town of Antakya (Antioch) in the border province of Hatay.
It is in this town of quarter-of-a- million inhabitants that the new Sunni force has located its command center and separate camps for the two main contingents to undergo intensive training for combat missions in the embattled Syrian towns and provinces of Idlib, Homs, Jabal al-Zawiya, scenes of the fiercest clashes between Syrian troops and rebels.
debkafile also reveals that the man appointed top commander of the Sunni intervention force headquartered in Antioch is none other than Abdel Hakim Belhaj, whose militia last August seized control of Tripoli after it was captured from Qaddafi by NATO and Qatari forces.
He has picked his deputies – Al-Mahdi Hatari, former head of the Tripoli Brigade and loyal crony Kikli Adem.
Qatari officers have set up communication links between the Libyan and Iraqi camps and since last week are coordinating their operations with the Free Syrian Army.
This flurry of military activity is taking place under the watchful gaze of the Turkish military and its intelligence services but they are not interfering.
debkafile's military and counter-terror analysts stress that the rise of a new Qatari-led Sunni Muslim rapid intervention force breaks fresh strategic ground with ramifications for the United and Israel as well as for the Gulf Arab countries, Syria, Libya and Iraq.
1. A year has gone by since the Arab Revolt first broke out in December 2010. Yet this is the first time a Sunni Muslim power has established an intervention force – one moreover which is composed almost entirely of fighting men drawn from the ranks of al Qaeda and its extremist Islamist affiliates and allies.
2. The new Sunni force, funded by the Persian Gulf oil states, is silently backed by the US and NATO members, with Turkey in the forefront of this support group. This means that the Sunni-Shiite divide is spiraling into overt conflict with Western support afforded to one side.
3. Despite finding itself increasingly isolated by its Arab neighbors, Tehran has so far not intervened directly in conflicts in which it owns an interest – such as Gulf Cooperation Council-GCC intervention against a Shiite-led uprising in Bahrain, and now Sunni militias and terrorists enlisted to battle the Allawite regime of Iran's closest ally, Bashar Assad in Damascus.
4. Iran's Lebanese proxy. Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah, must also be feeling an uncomfortable draft coming from a Sunni fighting force near his strongholds and carrying out raids against his closest ally, Bashar Assad. He can't ignore the possibility of that force conducting similar excursions against his own Shiite militia.
5. Israel too must find cause for concern in the rise of a Sunni military intervention force capable of moving at high speed from one arena to another and made up almost entirely of Islamist terrorists. At some time, Qatar might decide to move this force to the Gaza Strip to fight Israel.