U.S. Ups Aid to Syrian Rebels, Sending Them Missiles and Guns

Supplies include anti-tank missiles and light weapons, not advanced anti-aircraft missiles that could possibly endanger civil aviation in neighboring states.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Rebel fighters prepare to launch an anti-tank missile towards forces loyal to Assad.
Rebel fighters prepare to launch an anti-tank missile towards forces loyal to Assad.Credit: Reuters
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The United States is regularly sending arms to what it perceives as the more moderate Syrian rebel groups. Most recent supplies have been of anti-tank missiles, light weapons and munitions.

The weapons do not include any advanced anti-aircraft missiles, as Washington fears these could fall into the hands of radical Islamist fighters who, in the future, could endanger civil aviation in neighboring states.

U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on Friday in an interview to CNN that the United States was offering the moderate opposition in Syria “lethal and non-lethal” aid.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a speech at West Point last week that he wanted to increase the support to the rebels “who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.”

An internal debate has raged in the Obama administration over what level of intervention is appropriate in the Syrian civil war. For a long time, President Obama and his staff have been urging Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down.

However, the Americans have limited aid to the rebels, with an emphasis on communications and logistics systems rather than weapons, because of the widespread conviction that Islamist groups under Al-Qaida’s influence have taken the lead in the fight against Assad.

The United States’ decision not to supply the rebels with arms severely damaged the opposition’s chances and weakened its grip on the ground, in view of the generous aid Russia, Iran and Hezbollah provided Assad. The American hesitation was harshly criticized by leading Republican senators and by a number of European states and Gulf states.

Both Assad and the radical rebel factions are almost equally hostile toward Israel, which refrained from taking a stand.

In addition to the new arms supplies, the Americans have recently ramped up their activity in camps in Jordan and other countries in the region, where members of the more moderate Syrian opposition movements are training in guerilla warfare.

General Itay Bron, head of the IDF intelligence research department, said on Monday in a Herzliya conference that some 120,000 rebels are estimated to be taking part in the fight against Assad. Only about 20 percent of them are classified as members of moderate groups, without a religious agenda. Another 25 percent are members of political Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, while the rest are members of radical Islamic groups, some of which are inspired by Al-Qaida.

Bron, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and other senior officials in the defense establishment said recently the war in Syria may go on for years to come. Recently the Assad regime launched a broad offensive in the region under the rebels’ control in the south of Syria, around the town Dar’aa where the rebellion against began in early 2011.

So far the attack has run into difficulties and the rebels are holding off Assad’s troops in Dara’a and Na’awa, some 40 kilometers away.

Although Assad’s forces fired many missiles at Na’awa, the rebels did not withdraw from their positions.

Hundreds of Hezbollah combatants are taking part in the battles alongside Assad’s soldiers. They are accompanied by advisors of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Russia has also stepped up its intervention in the fighting and many of its advisors are operating in the Syrian army, from the general staff to the ground units.

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