The Western arms pipeline to the Syrian rebels fighting Bashar Assad is starting to run dry since the discovery that some of the weapons are being resold and used by al Qaeda in its conquest of southern Syrian and takeover of positions on the Jordanian and Israel borders. French President Francois Hollande for this reason reversed his government’s policy. “We will not do it [send the Syrian rebel arms] as long as we cannot be certain that there is complete control of the situation by the opposition,” he said Friday, March 29.
That day too, Ankara announced that Turkish authorities had impounded 5,000 shotguns, rifles, starting pistols, gunstocks and 10,000 cartridges in the village of Akcakale before they were sent across into Syria.
debkafile’s military sources: These steps are effectively putting in place a Western embargo on arms supplies to the Syrian rebels and not only the Assad regime. Saudi Arabia and Qatar remain their only sources of weapons.
This follows information reaching Washington, Paris, Ankara and Jerusalem in recent weeks that parts of the weapons consignments destined for the Syrian rebels, especially the Free Syrian Army, are being resold to Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamist militia which this week proclaimed itself al Qaeda of Syria amid a major offensive for the occupation of southern Syria.
The aggressive Al Qaeda push has in fact swept beyond the important plans finalized last week for a US-led campaign to combat the Syrian chemical weapons threat.
Two weeks ago, high-resolution maps were spread out in Jerusalem, Ankara and Amman, marking out zones inside Syria for their armies’ operations under the joint command centers the US set up last year in the three countries for combating chemical warfare.
Those plans and centers switched over last week to operational mode.
Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu made an unconvincing attempt to separate the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation from the Syrian issue. However, the fact remains that it was Barack Obama, during his trip to the region on March 20-22, who brought Turkey together with Israel and Jordan for the first joint operation in history on the soil of an Arab nation under US command.
This week, the region finds itself caught up by a menace more immediate even than a chemical war:
Scarcely noticed by the world and Israeli media (busy celebrating the Passover festival), Jabhat al Nusra is about to overrun southern Syria.
Using Western- and Arab-supplied arms smuggled in for the Syrian rebels from Turkey and Lebanon, the jihadists are taking up positions on the Israeli and Jordanian borders while also assuming control over the Yarmouk River and its tributaries.
Water in the Middle East has caused the outbreak of more than one armed conflict. And indeed 50 years ago, Israel and Syria fought a war, including aerial dogfights, to dominate that same Yarmouk River. The dispute was finally resolved when the United States stepped in and brokered an agreement for the distribution of its waters among Syria, Israel and Jordan.
Alarm over Nusra Front territorial gains has accordingly taken precedence over the chemical threat in the deliberations of the joint US-Israeli, US-Jordanian and US-Turkish command centers.
Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing has even been able to obtain from Iraqi jihadists its own stock of primitive chemicals – but weapons nonetheless.
The West hesitated too long before cutting off the supply of arms to the Syria rebels; it is already too late to prevent al Qaeda occupying international border regions and seizing control of an important regional water source. Dislodging them would call for a military offensive proper – which seems to be the rationale for the large military field hospital Israeli set up this week on its Golan border with Syria.