Syrian Rebels Beg for Help from US, Israel
August 1, 2012
The following article originally appeared on the Family Security Matters website and was posted with permission.
Syrian rebels are becoming increasingly desperate as the struggle drags on (Photo credit: PressTV.ir)
The Syrian rebels are loudly airing their frustrations with the U.S. as they ask for outside help, even going so far as to ask Israel for humanitarian assistance. Opposition leaders are particularly enraged after being informed that they shouldn't expect American assistance until after the presidential election. There are valid reasons to worry about support the rebels because there are Islamists, including Al-Qaeda elements, among them but the secularists' need for outside support and disillusionment with the U.S. are also things to be concerned about.
The Syrian Support Group, a political arm of the Free Syria Army in Washington D.C., sent a request to the U.S. for 1,000 RPG-29 anti-tank missiles, 720 23mm machine guns, 500 SAM-7 rockets, body armor, secure satellites and $6 million to pay soldiers. Every item was turned down and the reason given has sparked vocal expressions of disgust with the U.S.
A Free Syria Army logistics coordinator named Louay Mokdad said that requests for satellite images, an operations room and information that could be useful in tracking Assad's chemical weapons were turned down as well. He slammed the U.S. for providing "weak and inadequate" support.
A representative of the group said, "Basically the message is very clear; nothing is going to happen until after the election, in fact nothing will happen until after the inauguration. And that is the same message coming from everyone, including the Turks and Qataris."
Abdulbasit Sieda, the Kurdish president of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group based in Turkey, said "We would like to say to President Obama that waiting for Election Day to make the right decision on Syria is unacceptable for Syrians. We cannot understand that a superpower ignores the killing of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians because of an election campaign that a president may win or lose."
The chief of the Free Syria Army's Damascus military council, Khaled Habous, said that if the U.S. armed them with weapons like shoulder-fired Stinger missiles, the regime could collapse by August 19 when Ramadan ends. He "guarantee[d]" that the Free Syria Army would make sure that unsavory characters don't get them. He pinned the blame for ongoing civilian casualties on the U.S., saying "This is all in the hands of the Americans. They have the say and we will hold them responsible for more victims."
To be fair, the U.S. has endorsed the Syrian opposition and provides humanitarian assistance and communications equipment. The CIA is vetting the rebels to decide which ones should be armed by U.S. partners in the region like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Arms can also easily end up in the hands of enemies of the U.S., as happened in a big way in Libya. The U.S. has also been sharing intelligence and acting to stop Iranian arms shipments through Iraq and the Suez Canal.
Some secular democratic opposition figures are angry with the U.S. for failing to support them over the Islamists. In an interview with RadicalIslam.org, secular opposition activist Kamal Labwani complained that the U.S. was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood by upholding the umbrella body called the Syrian National Council, which he resigned from because of excessive Islamist influence.
The rebels are so desperate that some are even looking to Israel. One Israeli parliamentarian said he was secretly contacted by rebels seeking medical and humanitarian assistance and expressed a desire for Syria to "be friends" with its long-time enemy. One Syrian citizen wrote on the Facebook page of the Israeli Defense Forces spokesman to tell Israel not to fall for Assad's depiction of the opposition as being Islamic extremists. "We genuinely want peace," the Syrian said.
It is unclear that the majority of the Syrian population favors a new, friendly relationship with Israel, but two Syrian Kurdish leaders wrote a public letter on July 25 to the Chief Rabbinate of Russia arguing that the international community should endorse a federal Syria in order to blunt the power of the Islamists.
"This proposed federal Syrian state would recognize Israel with secure and defendable borders through peace accords similar to Egypt and Jordan and the exchange of ambassadors. The proposed accords would establish a lasting peace, facilitate trade and develop political, security, and cultural ties between the two countries," wrote the Chairman of the Union of Arab Syrian Clans and Tribes and the President of the Kurdistan National Assembly.
An Israeli journalist met with a "key figure" in the Free Syria Army who asked for medical aid. He admitted to the journalist that the Syrian population is not supportive of having a closer relationship with Israel but said this could be a turning point. "Eventually, everything comes to light and the Syrian people would not forget this gesture," he said. He agreed with the journalist that Israel would be a better ally for the rebels than Turkey.
The most shocking call for Israeli help came from Sheikh Adnan Aroor on February 10 in Saudi Arabia. On public television, Adnan ridiculed the Arab world for not helping the Syrian people and made a request for Israel to treat the wounded and provide humanitarian aid live on television. One reporter writes that rebels often say, "The regime in Israel cares more about human rights than the regime in Syria." This isn't exactly a loving endorsement of Israel, but it is an encouraging break from the pervasive mindset that all ills emanate from the West.
The lack of intelligence about the rebels is worrisome because it also means that there is a lack of certainty about who will replace Assad. Some U.S. government officials feel that the solution is not to back off from the rebels, but to actively engage them.
"We should be on the ground with bucket loads of money renting the opposition groups that we need to steer this in the direction that benefits the United States," said a former CIA officer who spent years in the Middle East told the Los Angeles Times. Other officials in the report disputed the charge that the CIA isn't doing enough to get to know the rebels.
The U.S. faces a catch-22. If it materially supports the rebels, it could be expediting the coming of an Islamist government and risks arming militias and terrorists. If it does not, it contributes to an anti-Western political environment beneficial to Islamists and alienates secular democratic rebels that would otherwise be pro-American.