Syria opposition expects Western military aid ‘within weeks’

Syria opposition expects Western military aid ‘within weeks’

Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmad Al-Jarba says the US is convinced that Assad cannot be removed diplomatically

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Al-Jarba speaks at the United Nations headquarters in July 2013. (photo credit: AP/Mary Altaffer)
Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Al-Jarba speaks at the United Nations headquarters in July 2013. (photo credit: AP/Mary Altaffer)

Western countries will start providing quality weaponry to the moderate Syrian opposition within weeks, the head of the Syrian National Coalition said on Thursday.

Ahmad Al-Jarba told the Saudi daily A-Shraq Al-Awsat that he was encouraged by his meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington on May 13, claiming that the American government is now “90% convinced of the need to help the opposition militarily.”

The Free Syrian Army, the country’s moderate fighting force, has long argued that an acute lack of quality weapons has caused it to hemorrhage fighters to the jihadist Al-Nusra Front and lose ground to President Bashar Assad’s forces. Earlier this month, opposition fighters withdrew from Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, ceding it to the government.

Prospects of a diplomatic solution in Syria have further diminished in recent weeks with the resignation of special UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Assad’s announcement that he intends to run in presidential elections scheduled for June 3.

“Assad’s decision is a grave insult to us as Syrians,” Jarba told the paper. “We said, and continue to say, that through his nomination Assad has completely shut the door on a political solution.”

The West now understands that the only way of convincing Assad to forgo power is by tilting the military balance in the opposition’s favor, he said.

“These [military] measures will be translated into reality in the coming weeks,” he added.

Indeed, the Americans with whom Jarba had spoken were concerned about the weapons falling into “the wrong hands,” but the Syrian oppositionist said he managed to assure them that such a scenario would not materialize.

“I explained the safeguards to them, and they were convinced by them,” he said. “It is impossible for weapons to fall into the hands of those fighting us. Moreover, the [donor] states can supervise the issue with us. We have military personnel with expertise in the weapons in question. There are compelling technical issues that we have explained to them and to the other friends at length.”

A senior Syrian rebel officer has elaborated to The Times of Israel on a number of possible measures to safeguard the weapons, including meticulous registration and the return of empty ammunition cases to their providers.

A disconnect between the Syrian opposition’s military leadership and its political leadership has hampered the credibility of the opposition in the past, Jarba admitted, but added that today the two branches work in unison.

“The proof is in the fact that [Free Syrian Army Chief of Staff] Abdul Ilah Al-Bashir accompanied me to the US… he came with me to the White House and participated in all the meetings I held,” Jarba said.

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