U.S. officials are calling it "humanitarian support," but a new push to directly intervene in the fighting in Syria sounds a lot like the opening of a proxy war. On Sunday, the U.S. and dozens of other countries in the Friends of Syria group signed off on a gift basket of monetary, strategic and technological support for the Syrian rebels. While the package does not include lethal weapons, if you look at what is provided and the direction the talks are moving in, the Friends of Syria coalition has effectively thrown down the gauntlet against Bashar al-Assad's regime and by extension, its primary backers Iran and Russia.
For its part, the U.S. just promised night-vision goggles, satellite communications equipment to help the rebels "organize, evade attacks by the regime" and communicate with people outside the country and an additional $12 million in humanitarian support (for a grand total of $25 million), reports The New York Times. It might just be us but we doubt that the those goggles will be used for taking in the scenery or the communication system used for catching up with distant relatives. This is equipment to fuel the resistance and if many of the Sunni-led states in the coalition have their way, it will be just the beginning.
Reporting from the conference in Turkey, the BBC says Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, are "openly calling" for the coalition to directly arm the rebels. Going a step further than anyone else, Al Jazeera reports that a number of Arab nations in the group such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will now directly fund the opposition to the tune of $100 million. If you've been reading Foreign Policy's Rania Abouzeid's reporting on the issue, you can expect that money to go toward black-market bullets and weapons from dealers in neighboring states, including Turkey Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.
Coupled with the move to formally recognize the opposition, now the Syran National Council, the push to support the rebels is receiving push back from certain quarters. One somewhat unexpected actor being Iraq, which warned of an all-out civil war breaking out with the arming of the rebels. "We reject any arming of the opposition, we reject attempts to bring down the regime by force, because it will leave a wider crisis in the region," said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at a press conference. Reuters reports that "If Assad were to lose power, Iraqi Shi'ite leaders are worried their own country's fragile sectarian balance among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurds could be unsettled, especially if a hardline Sunni regime replaced the Assad government."
Either way, it would be nice to know how far the White House is willing to go in this conflict and where the red line, if any, is in committing support for the rebels. The loss of 9,000 Syran lives is truly a tragedy but as many have pointed out, the Assad regime would be a challenge militarily to overthrow. One thing seems to be clear from statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the conference, it appears the U.S. role is only going to be more significant in the weeks and months ahead. "We are discussing with our international partners how best to expand this support," she said.
Update: Briefing the U.N. Security Council in a closed session, special envoy Kofi Annan says Syria has agreed to the U.N.'s peace plan, which calls for a ceasefire by all sides and a withdrawal from soldiers in urban areas, reports the BBC. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice doesn't sound too optimistic. "We have seen promises made and promises broken."