After concluding that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against its own people in Syria, Obama administration officials indicated on Thursday that the president will authorize US assistance to the opposition rebels, although the extent of that assistance and when it will take place is up in the air.  Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s chief just gave a speech reiterating that the Iranian-backed Lebanese group will fight anywhere needed in Syria to save Assad.

From NBC News:

The United States and its allies have concluded that the government of Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons in Syria’s protracted civil war, leading President Barack Obama to broaden aid — including military support — to opposition groups.

The intelligence community concluded with “high confidence” that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons — including the nerve agent sarin — “on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.”

“The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete,” said Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes.

In response to the confirmation of Assad’s use of chemical weapons, spokespeople indicated that President Obama will authorize US military assistance to the rebel opposition in Syria but did not go into specifics as to what that would entail.  Sources expect that it will consist of small arms.

From FOX News:

“The president has made the decision to authorize additional assistance, but we’re not going into specifics,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told Friday. “The president has been very clear that all options are on the table, with the exception of U.S. troops on the ground. That is not a possibility.”

Initial military aid is expected to consist of small arms and ammunition. That could include a range of weapons, including small arms, assault rifles, shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades and other anti-tank missiles which the opposition forces could operate without significant training. But the rebel Free Syrian Army, which now gets light arms from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said on Friday more light weaponry from the U.S. would be largely “meaningless.” The Syrian Opposition Coalition called for “strategic and decisive” support.

The proposal would also include the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone inside Syria.

From the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. military proposal for arming Syrian rebels also calls for a limited no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced from Jordanian territory to protect Syrian refugees and rebels who would train there, according to U.S. officials.

Asked by the White House to develop options for Syria, military planners have said that creating an area to train and equip rebel forces would require keeping Syrian aircraft well away from the Jordanian border.

To do that, the military envisages creating a no-fly zone stretching up to 25 miles into Syria which would be enforced using aircraft flown from Jordanian bases and flying inside the kingdom, according to U.S. officials.

The decision to arm the rebels has also raised concern; critics on both sides of the political spectrum fear the weapons will instead be used to fuel fighting between religious sects and could also end up in the hands of terrorists.  They also warn of escalating conflicts in the region and a long-term engagement.

From FOX News:

“Already some of those weapons… have been shown in radical militants’ hands,” Elizabeth O’Bagy, a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told the Financial Post earlier this year. “And even though the weapons are significantly better than they were before, they are still not the sophisticated kind the opposition would like.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a recent Op-Ed in the Albuquerque Journal that the U.S. risks repeating past mistakes, noting that weapons given to the Afghan mujahadeen in the 1980s to help them repel the Soviets fell into the hands of the Taliban, which in turn harbored Al Qaeda.

“The Assad regime is cruel and corrupt,” Udall wrote. “But many of the groups engaged in the conflict against him do not share our values. Instead, they pose long-term risk to us, and allies like Israel and Turkey.

“Their motivations are also conflicting,” he continued. “Some may want a free society, but others are intent on establishing an intolerant theocracy and are allied or sympathetic with Al Qaeda.”

Veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn of The Independent told Democracy now that the move could escalate regional conflict and last for years.

From an interview with Democracy Now:

“What’s happening in Syria may have begun as an uprising against a dictatorial government, but now it’s Sunni against Shia within the country, it’s Sunni against Shia outside the country… I think once you get entangled in this, rather like Iraq, it’s very difficult to disentangle yourself, and this could go on for years.” He also shares his disappointment in the lack of media scrutiny over the Administration’s claims that Assad has used chemical weapons on his citizens: “There must be some doubts about this. You know they say this with a sure voice, but it’s a sure voice which reminds me of what they were saying in 2002 and 2003 about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. You would need the evidence to be laid out in front of you to be really convinced by this.”

To date, the US has provided ancillary support in the way of food and medical supplies, and other limited support.

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron backed the decision of the US, but indicated that Britain has made “no decision” yet on whether or not to provide arms to the rebels in Syria.

While the West still ponders its moves, Hezbollah has no such uncertainty, via The Daily Star of Lebanon:

Hezbollah  will continue fighting alongside  President Bashar Assad  against Syrian rebels, the head of  the resistance group said Friday, adding that his party’s decision to intervene  in Lebanon’s neighbor had been a calculated one.

Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah  also said recent steps  taken by Gulf Cooperation Countries targeting Hezbollah loyalists in the Gulf  would not deter his group from its objectives in Syria.

“If anyone thinks that through lies, killings, and threats we will change our  stances, they are wrong. Wherever we need to be, we will be. What we started  taking responsibility for, we will continue to be responsible for, and there is  no need to give details,” Nasrallah said in an event commemorating wounded  members of Hezbollah….

“The Arab Syrian Army is fighting in various places in Syria and we are  playing our part in confronting the [American-Israeli-takfiri] project that  seeks to [ruin] the region, and not just Syria,” he said.

“We are defending this [Syrian] state, this entity, economy, country,” he  admitted, adding that his party backed the Syrian people who supported Assad.


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