The hand of Western imperialism in the war against Syria becomes clearer every day.
French President François Hollande called for an end of the European Union’s embargo on arms shipments to Syria just prior to an EU summit meeting in Brussels on March 14. Britain also has taken this position. Both countries are considering directly shipping weapons to the “rebels” if the EU does not lift the embargo. (New York Times, March 15)
Meanwhile, the first 300 rebels trained in Jordan by U.S. military officers returned to combat in Syria. They received instructions in “anti-tank, anti-aircraft and other types of advanced systems,” according to CNN.com (March 15). Earlier press reports exposed that Saudi Arabia has vastly increased its arms shipments to the rebels since December.
The mass media, however, have focused on reports from “anonymous Western officials” that Iran has significantly stepped up military support to the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad (Reuters, March 14). The same reports claim that the Lebanese revolutionary Hezbollah militia is “increasingly active on the ground” inside Syria, according to an unnamed envoy. However, Syria has warned the Lebanese government that armed rebels are regularly being confronted trying to enter Syria from Lebanon.
Despite some recent gains, the rebels continue to show an inability to organize any coordinated offensive. This reflects the political divisions that are widely evident both at the top of the Syrian Opposition Coalition and at the grassroots level inside Syria. The opposition is a patchwork of groups and individuals who share only hostility to the current Syrian nationalist regime. And they hold together only under intense pressure from U.S. and European foreign policy officials.
On the ground in Syria, numerous reports expose the lack of a united program or military coordination. Describing territory in northern Syria under control of rebel military units, a young fighter told the New York Times, “Syria right now is a jungle where everyone is competing to be in power … another six months of that and people are going to want Assad back because they are fed up.” (March 14).
Amnesty International, which has been attacking the Syrian government for battle tactics that have caused civilian casualties, has started reporting more and more on war crimes by the rebels. The organization says, “Syrian rebels routinely kill captured soldiers and suspected regime informers.” This amounts to “mounting war crimes committed by those trying to topple President Bashar Assad.” (Associated Press, March 14)
The extended and bitter fighting is, not surprisingly, also taxing the Syrian military. The Syrian armed forces were organized and trained for decades to confront and face the U.S.-backed Israeli military. The type of warfare now entering its third year is inevitably forcing the development of new leadership and new tactics. A number of reports indicate that Syria is expanding the role of popular militias throughout the country.
Sometimes called Popular Committees, these groups receive arms and training from the government and usually defend their own neighborhoods and villages against rebel incursions.
The Syrian government is also calling on patriotic and anti-interventionist youth to enlist in the army. A recent television broadcast by a leading Muslim cleric, the grand mufti Sheik Ahmad Badr al Dine Hassoun, urged young people of all religions to join the armed forces and defend Syria against foreign intervention. He called Syria “a civilized nation which converts diversity into richness instead of clashes and weakness.” (New York Times, March 12).
Organizations of mothers whose sons have died in the fighting are also standing up in defense of the Syrian government. Ten mothers were honored at the kickoff in Damascus for the Martyr’s Mother Fund initiative. “The event aims at boosting the role of the civil community and youth volunteers in caring for the families of martyrs and enhancing and respecting the principles of … sacrifice for the sake of the homeland,” reported Sana, the Syrian Arab News Agency, on March 16.
Fighting has also spread into Iraq. Forty Syrian government troops who retreated under fire into Iraq were ambushed as they were being escorted to a different border crossing to Syria on March 4. At least 40 Syrian and 10 Iraqi troops were killed by Iraqi militias supporting the Syrian rebels. In the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, three fuel tanker trucks loaded for travel to Syria were attacked and set ablaze by rebel supporters. The danger is growing that the Syrian conflict will engulf neighboring countries.
The growing involvement by U.S. and European powers in the Syrian war threatens even greater danger of a regional conflict.