World
Dmitry Minin
July 29, 2013
© Photo: Public domain

The West, perhaps without even trying, through its most recent arms shipments to the Syrian opposition, including those in which Saudi Arabia participated, has taken the civil war in Syria to a new level of conflict – a war of «all versus all». As many experts warned, the idea that in the conditions which have taken shape in this country one can supply arms and other resources only to the units with the «right political orientation» turned out to be not only unrealistic, but also extremely dangerous. The opponents of al-Asad, who belong to various ideological movements, immediately clashed in a bloody battle over these shipments. And it is not always the supporters of the «pro-West line» who meet with success. And most of all, like always, it is the people and the very democratic principles which Western leaders supposedly swore to protect in Syria that suffer. Even Z. Brzezinski warned: «What you are talking about means increasing our aid to the least effective of the forces opposing Assad. So at best, it’s simply damaging to our credibility. At worst, it hastens the victory of groups that are much more hostile to us than Assad ever was. I still do not understand… why we concluded somewhere back in 2011 or 2012 – an election year, incidentally – that Assad should go».

The British publication The Independent poses the question of how it is possible in the conditions of civil war to supply arms to the «good guys» and not to the «bad guys». History teaches us that they can easily switch places, and that the latter may very well win… What will happen if the Islamists wipe out the pro-Western Free Syrian Army (FSA)? «Then our weapons really will fall into the “wrong hands” rather faster than they would have done anyway – since guns are money in civil wars and al-Nusra and the rest have the cash to buy anything we give the FSA». Then the «obvious ally» of the FSA, in order for it to survive, will be «the chap in the presidential palace in Damascus», in other words, al-Asad. The Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat quotes one of the leaders of the Jordanian jihadists, Mohammed Shalabi, who believes that if the al-Asad regime falls, the confrontation between the secular opposition and the Islamists in Syria will grow even more.

In spite of their own calls for peace during the holy month of Ramadan, made in order to stop the advance of government forces, in many regions of the country opposition forces are waging fierce battles against one another. As the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir writes, the conflict was ignited by the delivery of new shipments of weapons to the rebels. The Saudi sponsors of the uncompromising opposition, according to As-Safir, shipped tons of weapons from Libya which are now being transported via the Turkish border. Therefore the fight is first and foremost for control of the border cities. The head of the FSA Supreme Military Council, Salim Idris, swore to the West that the weapons would not fall into the hands of al-Qaeda. In response the Islamists announced that they no longer recognize the orders of the FSA and refuse to cooperate with «secular insurgents». This was followed by the killing of FSA military council member Muhammed Kamal al-Hammami and his brother in the border region of Jebel-Turkman to the north of Latakia. Al-Hammami was the one in charge of distributing the new shipments of weapons among the rebels. And the extremists have called the FSA and stated that «after the Hammamis they will kill all the members of its Supreme Council». This incident was followed by the FSA's statement that the murder of a prominent member of its army command is tantamount to a declaration of war.

Analysts also say that the differences between the FSA and the Syrian Islamists spring from the chain of defeats they have suffered in the war against the government Syrian Arab Army (SAA), and al-Asad's forces now have a real chance to further establish a strategic initiative in the conflict and turn the tide in their favor.

According to Al-Jazeera, over just the past week there have been five such armed clashes between various opposition groups. The result was always the same. The FSA lost men and territory to the jihadists. Many stores of weapons were seized. For example, the city of Dana right on the Turkish border, where the most intense gun battles were, ended up totally under their control and was declared an «Islamic Emirate».

In the country's largest city, Aleppo, in addition to battles with government forces, the «secular» and «religious» oppositionists are fighting with one another for the key Bustan al-Qasr quarter, which separates the loyalists from the rebels. In the al-Ferdous quarter there were armed clashes between the FSA and Jabhat an-Nusra, during which the Islamists requested help from their «comrades-in-arms». It is reported that both sides of the conflict used anti-aircraft weapons, grenade launchers and homemade missiles. Many were killed or wounded. 

In the central part of the country in the provincial capital ar-Raqqa, which is occupied by the opposition, 1500 people have ended up behind bars for «violating sharia law». Among them is local FSA field commander Jasem Awwad; after his arrest the «11th Brigade», part of the Free Syrian Army supported by Saudi Arabia, besieged the headquarters of the Qatar-oriented Islamic Ahrar al-Sham movement, which planned to establish an Islamic emirate in the city under its control. Such an act on the part of the FSA was possible after the new Qatari emir distanced himself from the Syrian scheme, and oversight of the rebels shifted entirely to the KSA. However, the very next day the Islamists occupied all the key positions in the city. According to eyewitnesses, it is the city populace which suffers the most from these bloody showdowns; they are even brave enough to stage public protests, although they are dispersed by the rebels.

German experts believe that the process of division among the opposition continues. The radical Islamists, of whom perhaps the majority are foreigners, will continue to become stronger. Their ties with their native countries facilitate an uninterrupted flow of recruits who «want to fulfill their dream of dying a martyr's death and going to paradise».

The new development of the situation in Syria has led to a fair amount of embarrassment in the West, which to a significant degree predetermined such a turn of events through its actions. After Congress, alarmed by the new information, blocked arms shipments, the American press, for example, writes that «U.S. allies are 'baffled and alarmed' by the president's 'fecklessness on Syria,' and now his failure 'to deliver even on the modest action he decided on.'»

A report of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee states that al-Qaeda in Syria is already a terrorist threat to Britain itself. The committee warned that this terrorist organization has chemical weapons.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, there is a danger that extremists in Syria will take advantage of the favorable environment to carry out attacks on Western countries. This danger has become especially great since a large number of extremists arrived in Syria from Britain and other European countries. Here the terrorists acquire battle experience which increases the threat they pose.

Now the head of the British government Cameron is going back on his promises, stating: «Everything there is too complicated to get involved. And also, if we are not talking about the kind of weapons which we can't give them for fear that they will fall into the wrong hands, our shipments won't give the opposition a decisive advantage. The conflict will only grow stronger».

Deputy Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) David Shedd stated at a conference on security issues in Aspen that the internal Syrian conflict will last for months, if not for years. In his opinion, «they (the members of the militant opposition groups in Syria) will not go home when it is over», meaning the resignation of Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. «They will fight for that space. They are there for the long haul», said Shedd. He also expressed the opinion that the radical Islamist groups could dominate the rest. In his words, currently in Syria there are around 1200 opposition groups, which makes it very difficult to keep control of arms given to them. The most active in the war against al-Asad are the terrorist branches of al-Qaeda: «It is very clear over the last two years they have grown in size, grown in capability and ruthlessly grown in effectiveness».

He also does not rule out the victory of al-Asad. «DIA’s position was that (Assad’s fall) was no earlier than the start of this year. And it’s obviously not happened,” said Shedd. 

Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew Olsen warned that after the conflict is over, the terrorists who came to Syria from Europe and the U.S. will go back, and then they will pose a threat to Europeans and Americans.

Leading Washington Post columnist David Ignatius made a sort of diagnosis of the happenings, noting that one of the worst features of American foreign policy is the habit of «seduction and abandonment». That is what is happening now in Syria. 

The seduction started with President Obama's rhetorical proclamation on August 18, 2011: «The time has come for President Assad to step aside!» This was followed by a prolonged courtship of the Syrian opposition and ever greater commitments to it. The CIA got actively involved in working with the opposition, providing training and other assistance. On June 13, 2013 the White House formally promised to provide military aid to the Syrian opposition. The rebels even began to prepare warehouses for this aid.

«And then? Well, this is a story of unhappy romance, so you know what comes next. It’s what 19th-century English novelists called 'the jilt.' To quote a New York Times story published last weekend, it turns out 'that the administration’s plans are far more limited than it has indicated in public and private.'» In connection with this, Ignatius asks: «Imagine for the moment that you are a Syrian rebel fighter who has been risking his life for two years in the hope that Obama was sincere about helping… Now you learn that Washington is having second thoughts. What would you think about America’s behavior?.. The story playing out now in Syria is so familiar that it’s almost a leitmotif of U.S. foreign policy… At the end of 19th-century novels, the seducer who abandons his flirtation usually gets what he deserves… But it doesn’t happen that way in foreign policy». (9)

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.
A New War within a War in Syria

The West, perhaps without even trying, through its most recent arms shipments to the Syrian opposition, including those in which Saudi Arabia participated, has taken the civil war in Syria to a new level of conflict – a war of «all versus all». As many experts warned, the idea that in the conditions which have taken shape in this country one can supply arms and other resources only to the units with the «right political orientation» turned out to be not only unrealistic, but also extremely dangerous. The opponents of al-Asad, who belong to various ideological movements, immediately clashed in a bloody battle over these shipments. And it is not always the supporters of the «pro-West line» who meet with success. And most of all, like always, it is the people and the very democratic principles which Western leaders supposedly swore to protect in Syria that suffer. Even Z. Brzezinski warned: «What you are talking about means increasing our aid to the least effective of the forces opposing Assad. So at best, it’s simply damaging to our credibility. At worst, it hastens the victory of groups that are much more hostile to us than Assad ever was. I still do not understand… why we concluded somewhere back in 2011 or 2012 – an election year, incidentally – that Assad should go».

The British publication The Independent poses the question of how it is possible in the conditions of civil war to supply arms to the «good guys» and not to the «bad guys». History teaches us that they can easily switch places, and that the latter may very well win… What will happen if the Islamists wipe out the pro-Western Free Syrian Army (FSA)? «Then our weapons really will fall into the “wrong hands” rather faster than they would have done anyway – since guns are money in civil wars and al-Nusra and the rest have the cash to buy anything we give the FSA». Then the «obvious ally» of the FSA, in order for it to survive, will be «the chap in the presidential palace in Damascus», in other words, al-Asad. The Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat quotes one of the leaders of the Jordanian jihadists, Mohammed Shalabi, who believes that if the al-Asad regime falls, the confrontation between the secular opposition and the Islamists in Syria will grow even more.

In spite of their own calls for peace during the holy month of Ramadan, made in order to stop the advance of government forces, in many regions of the country opposition forces are waging fierce battles against one another. As the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir writes, the conflict was ignited by the delivery of new shipments of weapons to the rebels. The Saudi sponsors of the uncompromising opposition, according to As-Safir, shipped tons of weapons from Libya which are now being transported via the Turkish border. Therefore the fight is first and foremost for control of the border cities. The head of the FSA Supreme Military Council, Salim Idris, swore to the West that the weapons would not fall into the hands of al-Qaeda. In response the Islamists announced that they no longer recognize the orders of the FSA and refuse to cooperate with «secular insurgents». This was followed by the killing of FSA military council member Muhammed Kamal al-Hammami and his brother in the border region of Jebel-Turkman to the north of Latakia. Al-Hammami was the one in charge of distributing the new shipments of weapons among the rebels. And the extremists have called the FSA and stated that «after the Hammamis they will kill all the members of its Supreme Council». This incident was followed by the FSA's statement that the murder of a prominent member of its army command is tantamount to a declaration of war.

Analysts also say that the differences between the FSA and the Syrian Islamists spring from the chain of defeats they have suffered in the war against the government Syrian Arab Army (SAA), and al-Asad's forces now have a real chance to further establish a strategic initiative in the conflict and turn the tide in their favor.

According to Al-Jazeera, over just the past week there have been five such armed clashes between various opposition groups. The result was always the same. The FSA lost men and territory to the jihadists. Many stores of weapons were seized. For example, the city of Dana right on the Turkish border, where the most intense gun battles were, ended up totally under their control and was declared an «Islamic Emirate».

In the country's largest city, Aleppo, in addition to battles with government forces, the «secular» and «religious» oppositionists are fighting with one another for the key Bustan al-Qasr quarter, which separates the loyalists from the rebels. In the al-Ferdous quarter there were armed clashes between the FSA and Jabhat an-Nusra, during which the Islamists requested help from their «comrades-in-arms». It is reported that both sides of the conflict used anti-aircraft weapons, grenade launchers and homemade missiles. Many were killed or wounded. 

In the central part of the country in the provincial capital ar-Raqqa, which is occupied by the opposition, 1500 people have ended up behind bars for «violating sharia law». Among them is local FSA field commander Jasem Awwad; after his arrest the «11th Brigade», part of the Free Syrian Army supported by Saudi Arabia, besieged the headquarters of the Qatar-oriented Islamic Ahrar al-Sham movement, which planned to establish an Islamic emirate in the city under its control. Such an act on the part of the FSA was possible after the new Qatari emir distanced himself from the Syrian scheme, and oversight of the rebels shifted entirely to the KSA. However, the very next day the Islamists occupied all the key positions in the city. According to eyewitnesses, it is the city populace which suffers the most from these bloody showdowns; they are even brave enough to stage public protests, although they are dispersed by the rebels.

German experts believe that the process of division among the opposition continues. The radical Islamists, of whom perhaps the majority are foreigners, will continue to become stronger. Their ties with their native countries facilitate an uninterrupted flow of recruits who «want to fulfill their dream of dying a martyr's death and going to paradise».

The new development of the situation in Syria has led to a fair amount of embarrassment in the West, which to a significant degree predetermined such a turn of events through its actions. After Congress, alarmed by the new information, blocked arms shipments, the American press, for example, writes that «U.S. allies are 'baffled and alarmed' by the president's 'fecklessness on Syria,' and now his failure 'to deliver even on the modest action he decided on.'»

A report of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee states that al-Qaeda in Syria is already a terrorist threat to Britain itself. The committee warned that this terrorist organization has chemical weapons.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, there is a danger that extremists in Syria will take advantage of the favorable environment to carry out attacks on Western countries. This danger has become especially great since a large number of extremists arrived in Syria from Britain and other European countries. Here the terrorists acquire battle experience which increases the threat they pose.

Now the head of the British government Cameron is going back on his promises, stating: «Everything there is too complicated to get involved. And also, if we are not talking about the kind of weapons which we can't give them for fear that they will fall into the wrong hands, our shipments won't give the opposition a decisive advantage. The conflict will only grow stronger».

Deputy Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) David Shedd stated at a conference on security issues in Aspen that the internal Syrian conflict will last for months, if not for years. In his opinion, «they (the members of the militant opposition groups in Syria) will not go home when it is over», meaning the resignation of Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. «They will fight for that space. They are there for the long haul», said Shedd. He also expressed the opinion that the radical Islamist groups could dominate the rest. In his words, currently in Syria there are around 1200 opposition groups, which makes it very difficult to keep control of arms given to them. The most active in the war against al-Asad are the terrorist branches of al-Qaeda: «It is very clear over the last two years they have grown in size, grown in capability and ruthlessly grown in effectiveness».

He also does not rule out the victory of al-Asad. «DIA’s position was that (Assad’s fall) was no earlier than the start of this year. And it’s obviously not happened,” said Shedd. 

Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew Olsen warned that after the conflict is over, the terrorists who came to Syria from Europe and the U.S. will go back, and then they will pose a threat to Europeans and Americans.

Leading Washington Post columnist David Ignatius made a sort of diagnosis of the happenings, noting that one of the worst features of American foreign policy is the habit of «seduction and abandonment». That is what is happening now in Syria. 

The seduction started with President Obama's rhetorical proclamation on August 18, 2011: «The time has come for President Assad to step aside!» This was followed by a prolonged courtship of the Syrian opposition and ever greater commitments to it. The CIA got actively involved in working with the opposition, providing training and other assistance. On June 13, 2013 the White House formally promised to provide military aid to the Syrian opposition. The rebels even began to prepare warehouses for this aid.

«And then? Well, this is a story of unhappy romance, so you know what comes next. It’s what 19th-century English novelists called 'the jilt.' To quote a New York Times story published last weekend, it turns out 'that the administration’s plans are far more limited than it has indicated in public and private.'» In connection with this, Ignatius asks: «Imagine for the moment that you are a Syrian rebel fighter who has been risking his life for two years in the hope that Obama was sincere about helping… Now you learn that Washington is having second thoughts. What would you think about America’s behavior?.. The story playing out now in Syria is so familiar that it’s almost a leitmotif of U.S. foreign policy… At the end of 19th-century novels, the seducer who abandons his flirtation usually gets what he deserves… But it doesn’t happen that way in foreign policy». (9)