Something new is happening in Syria. There are two recent reports, one in Italian from il Foglio, my favorite daily newspaper, and the other in English at a web site called EA Worldview, which is politically obnoxious but very informative, especially concerning Iran. They both say the same thing: that the Free Syrian Army, which was formed fairly early in the revolt against Assad’s regime, is now getting some very good weapons. This accounts for its recent military successes, bringing it inside the Damascus gates.
Both base their analyses on the research of Elliot Higgins, a British expert who tracks the movement of weaponry in the region. Higgins says the new weapons, and ammunition for them, are coming from the old Yugoslavia. Both make the point that whereas Western countries, including the United States, are very concerned about radical jihadis among opposition forces, the FSA is much more attractive, being more “secular,” more moderate, and, at least at the outset, pro-Western. Il Foglio‘s excellent reporter on the scene, Daniele Raineri, makes another important point: by arming the FSA with weapons that can’t be obtained in the neighborhood, whoever is organizing the support gains a great deal of control, since the “whoever” also controls the flow of ammunition. And he notes that these new weapons are coming in to Syria from the south–with a major Jordanian role–rather than from the north, via Iraq and Turkey, which was the traditional route.
Neither is confident of knowing the deus ex machina of this tactical maneuver, but both know it could be very important. Is it, at long last, an American operation? Has Obama yielded to the advice of his senior military and foreign policy advisers, and–in partnership with, say, the Brits, the French, and the Jordanians–put some teeth in his thus-far empty cry “Assad must go”? Or is it, as no doubt some of the Islamists must suspect, a joint Israeli-Jordanian operation?
I don’t know. Kerry is apparently whispering to some of the opposition that “help is on the way,” which could mean almost anything. But whatever is going on should greatly concern the Iranians and their killers in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. For starters, the FSA has used some of their new toys to attack Hezbollah, in both Syria and Lebanon, which is tantamount to an attack on Iran itself.
I’m surprised that these attacks on Hezbollah haven’t received more attention, because they clearly show that the Syrian war has metastasized. In the past, the fighting spilled over across the Turkish border, but that seems to have stopped. The FSA warned Iran and Hezbollah that they were going to act, and now they have.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish elephant is breaking a lot of glasses and dishes, and again we don’t hear a lot about it. But if you’re watching Iran, you will have noticed some significant casualties on the battlefields of the region. Specifically, top Revolutionary Guards commanders are being killed. The Washington Post reported one of them, General Tabatabai, and noted that two other senior officers have been killed in the same area.