Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other feudal Persian Gulf states are providing millions of dollars in funding to Syrian opposition forces every month, with U.S. backing and coordination.
Rather than directly supplying lethal weaponry such as anti-tank weapons, administration officials told the Washington Post the U.S. “has expanded contacts with opposition military forces to provide the Gulf nations with assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.” In other words, the U.S. is giving the Saudis and their fellow Gulf monarchies contacts and pipelines for funneling cash, and perhaps weaponry too, to Syria’s rebel forces.
According to the Post, “opposition figures said they have been in direct contact with State Department officials to designate worthy rebel recipients of arms and pinpoint locations for stockpiles.”
A senior State Department official said, “We are increasing our nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and we continue to coordinate our efforts with friends and allies in the region and beyond.”
In addition, a leader of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood said “it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” the report says.
As a result, the flow of arms into Syria has greatly increased in recent weeks, according to the Post.
This is taking place even as the United Nations is struggling to preserve the peace plan initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
“The cease-fire has been broken by both sides and, as usual, civilians have been the main casualties,” reports on-the-scene China Daily journalist Li Lianxing. The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 people have died in the 14 months of conflict in Syria. Opposition groups say the death toll is more than 11,000.
Meanwhile, according to “a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity,” CNN reports that a “confidential draft U.N. report accuses Iran of exporting arms to the Syrian government.” The draft report is said to cite two seizures of Iranian arms shipments to Syria in the past year.
The U.S. move to military support for the Syrian opposition represents a shift in the White House approach, says the Washington Post. The Pentagon has also “prepared options for Syria extending all the way to air assaults to destroy the nation’s air defenses.” U.S. officials, however, have said that such direct involvement remains “very unlikely.”
Foreign intervention may already be helping turn Syria into a tinderbox.
China Daily’s Li Lianxing cites two massive car bomb explosions May 10 on the Damascus airport road, killing at least 55 people. It was “the sort of attack that’s become the hallmark of al-Qaeda.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he believed al-Qaeda was behind the attacks.
The agitated crowd that gathered at the Damascus car bombing site “repeatedly shouted slogans in support of the unification of the Syrian people and against Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two countries in the forefront of recent criticism of the Syrian authorities,” Li Lianxing reports.
“People realized that the conflict is not simply being played out between the government and opposition, but is developing into a more complex situation, one featuring other, more dangerous players,” says Li.
Bassam Haddad, director of Middle East studies at George Mason University, writes of the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime: “This is not simply another uprising against a dictator. It is also being transformed by other players into an effort to redraw the political map of the region and curtail further protests elsewhere.”
It brings to mind the Iraq disaster. After the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iraq was ravaged by the emergence of sectarian warfare, armed militias and the so-called Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Knowledgeable Iraqis and others said it was (and continues to be) a “proxy war” between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the U.S. siding with the Saudis.
Certainly the Saudi interest in Syria has nothing to do with democracy. In his new book “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter,” author Vijay Prashad notes that the Obama administration conferred with the repressive Saudi regime about last year’s democratic uprising in Egypt. “This is like asking a vegetarian how to cook prime rib,” Prashad observes.
A Syrian man sits on the balcony of his destroyed house, damaged from Syrian army forces shelling, in the Hamidiyeh neighborhood in Homs province, central Syria, April 22. AP