Washington certainly needs a distraction from the NSA digital surveillance scandal and since it has to be big, it might as well be Syria, where the hawks have now either machinated or simply discovered their chance.
The Assad regime has made some gains in the past week, most recently re-taking a suburb of the capital Damascus from rebel groups, and the US has finally announced it would officially come to the rescue with a supply of weapons for the rebels via CIA channels running through Turkey and Jordan.
On 13 June, President Barack Obama came out with the announcement that Syria’s rebel forces would be supplied with small arms and ammunition--automatic weapons, light mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades--and more training after allegedly confirming that Assad has been using chemical weapons.
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Some parallel forces in Washington, however—like Republican John McCain--would like to see heavy arms on the list, including anti-aircraft missiles. Still undecided is whether anti-tank weapons will be on the list. This despite the fact that these weapons will be largely controlled by al-Qaeda-linked groups who have infiltrated the rebels irrevocably—in fact, up to 40% at a low estimate, according to ISA Intel.
This will all go down in Turkey and Jordan. The US will arm the rebels through Turkey and train them in Jordan. There are already some 5,000 troops on the ground in Jordan for “Eager Lion” military exercises, including 300 Marines and a Patriot anti-aircraft missile system. When the games are over, Jordan is reportedly hoping that the US will leave behind a detachment of F-16s to keep the “peace” on the border and serve as a deterrent for any blowback from Syria.
The US is also considering a no-fly zone along the border with Jordan, which Russia says is a violation of international law, keeping in mind that Russia has a naval facility in the Syrian Mediterranean city of Tartus.
All of this is justified by the alleged evidence that Assad is using chemical weapons—allegations that have been questioned by a UN investigation into the matter, as well as by Russian authorities, who claim challenge this evidence. What is the evidence? We’re not quite sure. All we are allowed to know is that there is “credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people”.
In the meantime, Hezbollah is helping Assad to tip the balance back in his favor, defeating rebels in the strategic al-Qusair last week, near the border with Lebanon, and now making gains in Damascus. Now it looks like the regime is moving towards re-taking the city of Aleppo in full, which would be the final moral buster for the rebels.
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Where does this leave the planned US-Russian conference on Syria that is supposed to take place in Geneva next month? Washington’s military intervention in Syria is a major snub to Moscow. But so was Moscow’s snub of Washington with its deal to supply Assad with S300 surface-to-air missile systems. What everyone wants to know now is whether Moscow is willing to throw the towel in over Syria. That’s a tough call at a time when Moscow seems to be building new alliances in the Middle East (most recently perhaps with Hezbollah), but also seems to be hesitant to pursue a full-on relation with the likes of Syria’s regime.
So this is the culmination of months upon months of incoherent US foreign policy on Syria (and the wider Middle East), and it took a major scandal over the NSA’s dubious digital surveillance policies to sway the final decision on Syria. It will be a bloody and dangerously sectarian outcome that puts Turkey in a tough spot, threatens Jordan by arming its future enemies and promises to further destabilize fragile Lebanon.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com