Syria sends Qaddafi arms. Exodus from Benghazi
As Washington commended the Arab League for approving a proposed no-fly zone over Libya and European powers drew up plans for saving the anti-Qaddafi movement from defeat, Syria began sending Muammar Qaddafi supplies of arms, ammunition and weapons spare parts to sustain his effort to crush the uprising. debkafile's military and intelligence sources report exclusively that over the weekend a Libyan army general arrived at the Syrian Naval command at Tartous to establish a liaison office for organizing military hardware supplies from Damascus to the Libyan army and arrange shipping schedules.
Our sources report that another Libyan official was in Damascus early last week to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar Assad the types of weaponry required, prices and transport arrangements. After he left, Assad ordered Syrian emergency military stores to be opened and civilian freighters chartered to carry the consignments they had decided on across the Mediterranean to Libya.
The Syrian and Libyan arsenals are fairly compatible: both are dominated by Russian military products, Mig and Sukhoi fighters and bombers, T-72 tanks, BM-21 rocket launchers, the same armored personnel carriers and anti-air and anti-tank missiles.
The Libyan-Syrian arms transaction is a landmark in the sense that it is the first time since the Arab revolts erupted in January that one Arab regime has stepped in to help another suppress an uprising.
Damascus is also in violation of last month's Security Council Resolution 1970 whichincluded an arms embargo against the Qaddafi regime and by supplying Libya weapons by sea Assad undermines the Western-Arab effort to introduce a no fly zone to curtail Qaddafi's aerial might.
By this action, Bashar Assad shows contempt for the US President Barack Obama's policy in support of the popular unrest against authoritarian Arab regimes and scorns the indulgence shown him by the US president.
In the last six months, Washington has gone to extreme lengths to establish friendly relations with Damascus – not only restoring the US ambassador after five years, but quietly accepting fresh Syrian meddling in Lebanon.
The Obama administration had hoped that Assad would respond by being helpful on the Palestinian issue and start distancing himself from Tehran. Instead, he has strengthened his military ties with Tehran, granting Iran its first permanent base on the Mediterranean at Tartous.
Now, by replenishing the regime's stocks of arms and ordnance, the Syrian ruler has gone directly against US policy of support for the Libyan opposition and spurred Qaddafi on for his final major offensive to crush the uprising without having to stop and wait for fresh supplies of war materiel.
In the last 24 hours, rebel militias were pushed out of the two key oil towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega in eastern Libya after losing their footholds in Tripolitania to the west. Pro-Qaddafi forces were landed for the first time by sea Saturday, March 12, at Agilah, 60 kilometers east of Ras Lanuf, indicating that Qaddafi intends to drop more troops on the coast of Cyrenaica to pursue his thrust into the rebel-held region.
Our military sources report that no obstacles now stand in the path of Qaddafi loyalist troops heading for the rebel center of Benghazi, 200 kilometers from Brega. The rebels have nowhere near the manpower they need to hold Libya's second largest city against a government offensive. There are first signs of an exodus beginning from the city.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has scheduled visits to Tunis and Cairo this week and a possible rendezvous with Libyan opposition National Transitional Council leaders in Cairo Tuesday, March 15. That timetable is prone to last-minute changes.