April 4, 2014
By Antoun Issa
According to the Washington Post, Obama was considering backing down from his stern opposition to arming rebels with more advanced weaponry, including anti-aircraft missiles, or MANPADs. The Saudis have long pressed Western powers to arm rebel factions fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with sophisticated weapons, hoping it would turn the tide in the opposition’s favor in the three-year, brutal conflict.
To bolster its argument that it is taking concrete steps to limit the actions of jihadist groups fighting in Syria, Saudi Arabia passed unprecedented anti-terror laws that specifically targeted Saudi nationals fighting abroad, as well as listing Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist organizations.
Proponents for further militarization of the Syrian war insist that “moderate” rebel fighters can be trusted with such sophisticated weaponry, and can be used as a counterweight to rising jihadist groups as well as to confront a national army receiving strong support from Iran, Russia, Iraq and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
US officials continue to remain skeptical that such trustworthy, “moderate” rebels exist, or that arms provided to vetted, moderate rebels would not end up in the hands of the extremists. The distinction between “moderate” and “extremist” rebels in Syria has been presented in word only, without any substance to corroborate such a distinction. The Washington Post report, relying on “knowledgeable officials,” states that Riyadh has agreed to exclude any fighters who have worked with three jihadist groups: Ahrar al-Sham, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS.
Antoun Issa is Beirut bureau chief of Al Monitor.