The Obama Administration announced this week that it would begin arming Syrian rebels after it found that chemical weapons had been deployed in the Middle Eastern country’s civil war.
But The Washington Post revealed on Saturday that the decision to send weapons into Syria was made weeks in advance “and that the chemical weapons finding provided fresh justification to act.”
As loyalist forces, bolstered by Hezbollah militiamen from neighboring Lebanon, began to turn the civil war in President Bashar Assad’s favor, the president “ordered officials in late April to begin planning what weaponry to send and how to deliver it,” the newspaper reported.
That decision effectively ended the lengthy disagreement among those in the White House — primarily Obama’s political advisors — who argued that providing arms would be a slippery slope to greater involvement, military leaders who said it would be too risky and expensive and State Department officials who insisted that Syria and the region would collapse in chaos if action were not taken.
The administration has deflected questions about what equipment it intends to provide. Western countries have for months provided exclusively “nonlethal” aid, including communications and sanitation equipment as well as British body armor, while allied Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have given weapons to Syria’s anti-government fighters.
Most of the arms the Sunni monarchies, which seek to hasten Assad’s demise because he is the only Arab ally of their regional nemesis Iran, provided ended up in the hands of religious extremists the West abhors. Indeed, the deadliest fighters in the Syrian opposition movement appear to be the more radical ones, including those affiliated with Al Qaeda, the organization that carried out terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001.
Russia, which resists Western attempts to influence the outcome of the conflict in Syria, has repeatedly cautioned other countries against supporting the insurgency there. President Vladimir Putin told RT television in an interview that was broadcast last September: “Today, some want to use militants from Al Qaeda or some other organizations with equally radical views to achieve their goals in Syria.” He compared the situation to the United States backing mujahideen rebels during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and warned that propping up Muslim extremists in Syria will similarly backfire.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed alarm on Saturday when the United States announced that they would deploy F-16 fighter jets and Patriot missile defense systems in Jordan, a neighbor of Syria. “You don’t have to be a great expert to understand that this will violate international law,” he said. Russia fears that the weapons might be used to try to implement a no-fly zone over Syria as Western powers did over Libya in 2011. Russia was critical of that intervention as well.