The cat’s out of the bag. During Libya’s rebellion, the White House OK’ed the arming of rebels fighting the Gaddafi regime to Arab partners in the Gulf, and rumors have abounded ever since over the identity of some of the recipients of weapons sent by U.S. allies. Now, a story in the Wednesday’s New York Times claims to have confirmed rumors that some of the arms supplied by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates ended up in the hands of Libyan Salafi groups. There’s no evidence these arms were actually used in the attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11, but the Times report will fuel speculation. It may also help explain why the Obama Administration has been dancing around the Benghazi incident as if were a grenade with the pin pulled.
It seems perfectly possible to me that some weapons sent from the Gulf could have found their way to Ansar al-Sharia, the group currently blamed for the Benghazi attack. That creates a problem for the White House. If such a link surfaces, the Obama Administration may try to blame Gulf Allies. Those countries, in turn, can be expected to say the White House ignored warnings the weapons might fall into the wrong hands.
The intelligence services of the Gulf countries are not capable of directly orchestrating large-scale covert action programs, and in particular, large-scale arms transfers. Because of their limited capacity, they themselves are obliged to outsource the process, which, as it turns out, means handing money and arms to Salafi groups headquartered in the Gulf. Those Salafis are more than happy to take the money, and to use it to arm allied fighters in distant lands.
The key question, though is this: Why did the Administration think that outsourcing covert action to the Gulf Arabs would have a better outcome in the Arab Spring than was the case the last time the United States outsourced covert action to them? That would be when the Reagan Administration armed Afghan jihadists fighting the Russian occupation — most arms and support provided by the Arabs went to Afghan Salafis, not to mention the Arab volunteers who later become the core of al-Qaeda. Are memories truly that short?
Which brings us to Syria.
The United States and Turkey indicated they were studying a range of possible measures over Syria, including a no-fly zone, as battles between rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces shook Aleppo and the heart of Damascus.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after meeting her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul on Saturday that Washington and Ankara should develop detailed operational planning on ways to assist the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
“Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that,” she said.
Asked about options such as imposing a no-fly zone over rebel-held territory, Clinton said these were possibilities she and Davutoglu had agreed “need greater in-depth analysis”, while indicating that no decisions were necessarily imminent.
“It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning,” she said.
Though any intervention appears to be a distant prospect, her remarks were nevertheless the closest Washington has come to suggesting direct military action in Syria.
No-fly zones imposed by NATO and Arab allies helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year. Until recently, the West had shunned the idea of repeating any Libya-style action.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are believed to be arming Syrian rebels, while the United States and Britain have pledged to step up non-lethal assistance to Assad’s opponents.
Davutoglu said it was time outside powers took decisive steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis in cities such as Aleppo, where Assad’s forces have fought rebels for three weeks.
Even the Russians, as well as Western governments, must think Syria would be better off if the regime is decapitated before descending into sectarian chaos
FOR all the talk of an early endgame being played out in Syria in the aftermath of the bombing that killed four of Bashar Assad’s key security enforcers, Western governments and their intelligence services are not betting on the regime’s imminent collapse. The battle under way for Syria’s second city, Aleppo, may end with Mr Assad’s forces holding the centre and other key points while the rebels are forced back to the fringes, where they may nibble away for months. If Aleppo falls, the regime will probably go down fast. But that may not happen soon.
Mr Assad’s own fate—either death or flight—may, however, be sealed. The destruction he has wrought on his people has surely disqualified him from any settlement. As things stand, Western intelligence services think he is more likely to be ousted by a palace coup than by the kind of military collapse that engulfed Muammar Qaddafi. Indeed, the idea of replacing Mr Assad with somebody from within the regime is circulating in intelligence circles, and may even hold some attraction for the Russians, hitherto Mr Assad’s staunchest foreign backers. The UN and the Arab League seem, for the moment, to be making little or no diplomatic running.
The Spanish government said Thursday that it had arrested three men suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and believed to have been planning attacks in Spain or elsewhere in Europe.
Two are citizens of the former Soviet Union and the third is a Turkish citizen, according to Spain’s interior ministry. They were arrested as part of a police operation carried out between Tuesday night and Wednesday.
The Turkish suspect was arrested in La Línea de la Concepción, a southern Spanish town facing Gibraltar, in a rented house where the police also found a sizable quantity of explosives. The other two men were arrested while traveling by bus near Valdepeñas, in central Spain, likely on their way to France.
The men had long been sought by intelligence services, according to the interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz.