Britain 'less eager' to arm Syrian rebels following intel on Al-Qaida links
Government exercising more caution following intelligence reports and warnings by other governments that the major part of the rebel movement has been taken over by Jihadist groups.
LONDON - The British government is exercising more caution in its attempts to arm the rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, following intelligence reports and warnings by other governments that the major part of the rebel movement has been taken over by Jihadist groups with links to Al-Qaida. Earlier this month, the British were calling for an end to the arms embargo on the rebels but they have since toned down their rhetoric.
Diplomats and intelligence officials who are involved in the Western efforts to aid the rebels have said over the last week that Britain is "less eager" than in the past to extend military aid to the Syrian rebels. One diplomat who has participated in meetings on the subject said that "Whitehall is less gung-ho than it was a few weeks ago. They are beginning to realize just how dangerous more arms in the hands of the Jihadists could be. They understand now that Syria is becoming a black hole and we should be very careful about any other weapons getting sucked in there."
A military expert who also took part in meetings on this subject in London said that "there is quite some distance between the British rhetoric and what the government is actually doing on the ground. They naturally want to find a way to end the tragedy in Syria and bring Assad down as soon as possible but they know now that sending arms to the rebels may just cause an even worse situation."
The British government announced early last week that it was sending military aid including armored vehicles and sets of body armor to the rebel groups. In addition, Foreign Secretary William Hague, along with colleagues in the French government, urged for the European Union to cancel its decision to impose a weapons embargo on all the sides in the Syrian conflict.
But just days later, Hague seemed to be toning down his own rhetoric when he stated in a letter to members of the parliament's foreign affairs committee that some of the Islamist fighters currently fighting against the Syrian government could return from Syria to attack British and Western targets. “This is particularly concerning as we assess some of the individuals being trained will seek to carry out attacks against Western interests in the region or in Western states now or in the future,” he wrote.
One of the reasons cited by the British government in calling for an end to the arms embargo was the intelligence indicating that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons against rebels and civilians. But on Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron also sought to scale back the tension when he said that while there was "growing evidence" of chemical weapons being used, that evidence was "limited."
Cameron said he wanted to find ways to "step up the pressure" on the Assad regime but that "it is extremely difficult though, and extremely frustrating." Cameron ruled out British troops operating in Syria and did not mention supplying arms to the rebels. In a meeting two weeks ago between Cameron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was visiting London for Margaret Thatcher's funeral, Netanyahu also warned of the implications of western arms reaching Jihadists rebels that could be used later against Israel and western targets.