Good news: John McCain will finally get his wish about being able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in Syria’s civil war. Bad news: They’ll be the guys in the crossfire. After playing footsie with al-Qaeda affiliates for more than two years in their attempt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the so-called secularists have discovered that terrorist networks tend to be unreliable partners:
Syrian rebels said on Friday the assassination of one of their top commanders by al Qaeda-linked militants was tantamount to a declaration of war, opening a new front for the Western-backed fighters struggling against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Rivalries have been growing between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamists, whose smaller but more effective forces control most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria more than two years after pro-democracy protests became an uprising.
“We will not let them get away with it because they want to target us,” a senior FSA commander said on condition of anonymity after members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant killed Kamal Hamami on Thursday.
“We are going to wipe the floor with them,” he said.
It’s a little late for that now. After having bedded down with terrorist dogs for more than two years, the FSA has the world’s worst flea infestation. They don’t control significant ground on their own, and they’re the third-best armed group in a war of three. The only group with any momentum against Assad at the moment is Jabhat al-Nusra, and Assad is slowly grinding them down, perhaps in part because of the civil war among the rebels.
FSA is going to have trouble competing with that, especially with our friends the Kuwaitis funding the extremists:
Syrian rebels have a new source of weapons and cash from inside Kuwait, and their benefactors in the oil-rich state are sending the aid to the most militant and anti-West factions involved in the fight to topple Bashar al-Assad.
The role of Saudi and Qatari governments and individuals in the funding and arming of Islamist fighters in Syria has been well known since the civil war began more than two years ago. But now, guns and money are flowing from private sources and Salafist-controlled NGOs based in Kuwait, and they are going to rebel factions aligned with Al Qaeda.
“We are collecting money to buy all these weapons, so that our brothers will be victorious,” hard-core Sunni Islamist Sheikh Shafi’ Al-Ajami announced on Kuwaiti television last month, listing the black-market prices of weapons, including heat-seeking missiles, anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Days later, Al-Ajami addressed a small throng outside the Lebanese Embassy in Kuwait and gleefully described slitting the throat of a Shiite Muslim in Syria.
“We slaughtered him with knives,” Al-Ajami said to shouts of “God is Great.”
Now might be a good time to start arming the secularists if they plan to stand alone, but it’s not exactly brilliant strategy to back the losing side in a civil war. It also doesn’t help when those weapons routinely show up with Assad’s army. The FSA doesn’t control enough ground to secure those weapons; in fact, they can’t even secure their own command and control, as this assassination demonstrates.
With the deteriorating situation among the rebels in mind, it’s no surprise to see Israel shifting significant resources to the Syrian border and Golan Heights:
Syria’s civil war has brought an end to decades of calm on the Golan Heights, a strip of land which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Battles between rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syrian villages nearby are being watched intensely by Israel’s military.
Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran, has sent thousands of its own fighters to combat Syrian rebels, according to Israeli and Western estimates.
Israel last fought Hezbollah in a 2006 Lebanon war and still closely monitors the Lebanese border. Israel says Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets in its south Lebanon stronghold.
The Jewish state is worried Hezbollah is making initial preparations for future confrontation with it on a new front with Syria and is accruing valuable combat experience on the Syrian battlefield.
That would be a concern no matter which side won in the Syrian civil war. It’s telling that Israel is more concerned about Hezbollah than al-Qaeda at this point in time.