Pilot program gives Syrian rebels advanced Western weaponry

Syrian rebelsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A pilot program operated by American and Saudi intelligence services has allegedly supplied Syrian rebel groups with sophisticated Western weaponry for the first time. Last weekend, The Wall Street Journal cited “people briefed on the effort” as stating that “a small number” of advanced American antitank missiles have been offered to Syrian rebel groups. The move is reportedly part of a new clandestine program, which, if successful, could open the door to “larger flows” of sophisticated Western-made weaponry in the hands of Syrian rebels. The paper said that Washington made the decision to give the weapons to the rebels following the collapse of the Western-backed peace talks early this year, coupled by the apparent military victories of Syrian government forces on the ground in the embattled Middle Eastern country. The effort is apparently part of a “small, tailored program”, which The Journal says is coordinated by American and Saudi intelligence services, aimed at “testing the waters” in Syria. Specifically, Washington and Riyadh are trying to discern whether these advanced weapons will fall into the hands of some of Islamist-inspired rebel groups on the ground, some of which have strong links with al-Qaeda. According to the paper, American and Saudi intelligence operatives have funneled “about a dozen” BCM-71 TOW armor piercing antitank systems to at least one rebel group on the ground. The group, Harakat Hazm, emerged earlier this year through the union of several small secular rebel groups in northern Syria. One weapons expert told The Journal that the antitank systems are equipped with a “complex, fingerprint-keyed security device” that should hopefully help limit the number of individuals that can fire the weapons. The article adds that US and Saudi intelligence services have entered a period of closer collaboration aimed at increasing material support for the Syrian rebels. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #876 (analysis edition)

Russian troops in UkraineBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Why did Obama not bomb Syria? In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya. Last August, after the sarin attack in Syrian capital Damascus, he was ready to launch an allied air strike to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​ But with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was later postponed. Why did Obama relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? Award-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh argues that the answer lies in “a clash between those in the Obama administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous”.
►►What is the role of the FSB in the Ukrainian crisis? On April 4, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a note to Moscow demanding to know why FSB Colonel General Sergei Beseda visited Kiev in February. The very next day Russian news agency InterFax cited a source in Russian intelligence confirming that visit. Beseda heads the FSB Fifth Service’s Operational Information Department, which is responsible for conducting intelligence activities focusing on the former Soviet republics. Agentura.ru intelligence analyst Andrei Soldatov says that the answer as to why Beseda was in Kiev could be key to understanding the role of Russia’s intelligence agencies in the current crisis and to the Kremlin’s entire strategy in Ukraine.
►►What would a US-Russia war look like? The chances that the US and Russia will clash militarily over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine are very, very slim. But, says The Week’s Peter Weber, if we learned anything from World War I, it’s that huge, bloody conflicts can start with tiny skirmishes, especially in Eastern Europe. So what would a US-Russia war look like? The US is much wealthier than Russia and spends a lot more on its military. That doesn’t mean a war would be easy for the US to win, though, or even guarantee a victory. As Napoleon and Hitler learned the hard way, Russia will sacrifice a lot to win its wars, especially on its home turf.

News you may have missed #867 (Syrian uprising edition)

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Al-Qaeda breaks link with Syrian militant group. Al-Qaeda’s general command said on Monday it had no links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in an apparent attempt to reassert its authority over fragmented Islamist fighters in Syria’s civil war. The move is likely to bolster a rival Islamist group, the al-Nusra Front, as al Qaeda’s official proxy in Syria. The switch is seen as an attempt to redirect the Islamist effort towards unseating President Bashar al-Assad rather than waste resources in fighting other rebels.
►►Is Israel secretly working to target al-Qaeda in Syria? Reports already indicate that Israel is providing humanitarian aid for Syrians, but do these contacts also include intelligence and military cooperation against radical groups linked with al-Qaeda? And, if so, does this mean that Israel is assisting troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?
►►Australians ‘flocking to Syrian front line’. Some experts say there are more Australians journeying to Syria to participate in the ongoing conflict than any other Western nation. The number of Australians killed in Syria’s civil war is at least 15 —double the number previously reported. The claim comes from a prominent member of the country’s Syrian community. He says there is no shortage of Australian support for the Syrian rebels —and that that support is being grossly under-reported.

Newspaper retracts report of Turkish jets attacking Syrian rebels

Turkish-Syrian borderBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A Turkish newspaper has retracted a report stating that Turkish military jets entered Syrian territory and destroyed an outpost belonging to an al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, after its members attacked a Turkish military garrison along the Syrian-Turkish border. In a published correction, the paper said instead that the Turkish army opened fire from inside Turkey. Today’s Zaman, the English-language edition of Turkish daily Zaman, reported on January 29 that Turkish F-16s had entered Syrian territory and had bombed a stationary convoy of vehicles belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda-linked group that made its appearance in Syria in April of last year. The origins of ISIS are in Iraq, where it was founded in 2003 as a Sunni armed paramilitary force, in response to the invasion by the United States. In 2004, the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and changed its name to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Many observers argue that, in recent months, ISIS has turned into “one of the most powerful forces on the ground” in Syria, with 7,000 well-armed fighters, many of whom are battle-hardened foreign Islamists. It is widely believed that ISIS now dominates Syria’s northwest, having established outposts in a series of “strategic towns” in the region, which are referred to by its leaders as “mini emirates”. Through these outposts, ISIS fighters are able to monitor border traffic between Syria and Turkey, and effectively control most border passages. After retracting its earlier report, Today’s Zaman said the Turkish military used “tanks and artillery fire” to attack the ISIL outpost. Read more of this post

Confirmed: Secret talks between Assad officials and Western spies

Faisal MekdadBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The BBC says it has confirmed that secret meetings have been held between Western intelligence officials and senior members of the Syrian government, aimed at “combating radical Islamist groups” in Syria. In a report aired on Wednesday, the British news agency cited “informed sources” in confirming that Western intelligence officials had visited Syrian capital Damascus. While there, said the report, the officials held meetings with security agents loyal to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The confirmation came a day after Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, told BBC’s flagship Newsnight program that the Syrian government was cooperating with Western intelligence services against radical Islamist groups that have taken up arms against President Assad. The Syrian official told Newsnight that Western governments were “finally understanding” that there was “no alternative except al-Qaeda” to Assad’s rule in Syria, and that Western security officials were in secret contact with Damascus. Asked whether he was referring to officials from Western intelligence agencies, Mekdad said he would “not specify, but many of them have visited Damascus, yes”. He added that the al-Assad government was receiving regular requests from Western countries to have their diplomats —most of whom were withdrawn following the outbreak of the civil war— return to the Syrian capital. Read more of this post

Analysis: How al-Qaeda changed the Syrian Civil War

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Until relatively recently, few observers believed that the government of Bashar al-Assad had a future in war-torn Syria. But the situation in the world’s most active battle zone has changed drastically in recent months, and now many suggest that the Assad forces are dominating the conflict. In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, Sarah Birke, a Middle East correspondent for The Economist, argues that it was the presence of al-Qaeda that changed the balance of power between the warring sides. She points the finger at the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda-linked group that made its appearance in Syria in April of last year. Since that time, ISIS has turned into “one of the most powerful forces on the ground”, with 7,000 well-armed fighters, many of whom are battle-hardened foreign Islamists. The origins of ISIS are in Iraq, where it was founded in 2003 as a Sunni armed paramilitary force, in response to the invasion by the United States. In 2004, the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and changed its name to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The United States government has pledged $10 million in return for information leading to the capture of the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but with no success so far. In the spring of 2003, the Iraqi-born al-Baghdadi announced the merger of AQI with the Al-Nusra Front, AQI’s branch in Syria. Since that time, the two unified groups have been commonly referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham —al-Sham being a reference to ‘greater Syria’, known also as ‘the Levant’. Birke reports that ISIS now dominates Syria’s northwest, having established outposts in a series of “strategic towns” in the region, which are referred to by its leaders as “mini emirates”. Through these outposts, ISIS fighters are able to monitor border traffic between Syria and Turkey, and effectively control most border passages. This has crippled the Free Syrian Army, which used to dominate the Syrian opposition with the help of generous donations of money and war material coming in from Turkey. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #861 (Syria edition)

Regional map of SyriaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Report from Syrian city controlled by al-Qaeda. Raqqa, a city in northeastern Syria with approximately one million inhabitants, is now under control of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the most powerful al-Qaeda affiliate currently operating in Syria. Since ISIS came to power in May, its abuse of Raqqa’s citizens has been well documented. On the surface, this violence appears to be indiscriminate and irrational. Yet, it is also organized and tactical.
►►US weighing closer ties with hardline Islamists in Syria. As the moderate faction of the Syrian rebellion implodes under the strain of vicious infighting and diminished resources, the United States is increasingly looking to hardline Islamists in its efforts to gain leverage in Syria’s civil war. On Monday, the State Department confirmed its openness to engaging with the Islamic Front following the group’s seizure of a Free Syrian Army headquarters last week.
►►Turkey shipped tons of arms to Syria rebels. Turkey has shipped 47 tons of weapons to Syrian rebels since June despite repeated government denials, a local newspaper reported on Monday. The Hurriyet Daily News, citing UN and Turkish Statistics Institute records, said 29 tons of military equipment were sent to opposition fighters in September alone. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vociferous opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has openly supported the rebels but has always denied arming them.