The Free Syrian Army could tactically collaborate with Israel in toppling the Assad regime, as long as such cooperation is carried out in utter secrecy, a senior FSA officer told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
The intelligence officer, who defected from the Assad regime in September 2012, spoke from Amman on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of his current position.
He said that he has conveyed detailed assurances to the US that advanced weapons requested from the West would not fall into jihadist hands, but that the US nevertheless continues to withhold such weapons.
In talks with the American embassy in Amman immediately following his defection, the officer conveyed FSA requests for the transfer of portable American surface-to-air Stinger missiles and advanced anti-tank weaponry to confront the Assad regime, but to no avail.
“Some [anti-tank] TOW missiles have leaked in, but not enough to decide the battles or turn the tide,” he said. “We need these weapons in order to topple the regime, while preventing the jihadist organizations from remaining in Syria.”
A few months ago, the FSA — the largest moderate rebel faction, which has been fighting Islamist rebels as well as regime forces — put together a detailed mechanism for ensuring that the advanced weapons won’t fall into hostile hands, he said. An official FSA committee would be established to receive the weapons, entrusted with registering their serial numbers and video documenting every time they are used on the battlefield. The FSA also offered to return the empty ammunition cases to their providers.
“We came up with this mechanism after the Americans delayed their reply. We began to fear the jihadist and Salafi movements, so we devised this system ensuring that the weapons don’t fall [into hostile hands]. If they did, they would be used against us, the Free Syrian Army.”
But even without transferring weapons, the US could do much more to aid the FSA and thwart the regime’s daily airstrikes against civilian targets, the officer said. A no-fly zone could be imposed, the aircraft’s communication systems could be disrupted, and intelligence regarding regime movements and weapon stashes could be provided to the FSA.
“Honestly speaking, the regime is still standing strong thanks to external support,” he said. “Besides the support [for the Assad regime] from Iran and Russia and their allied organizations, we sense that the West is also to blame. The US, which is the strongest democratic superpower, should live up to its role and present a clearer position. It should take effective and decisive measures to topple the regime.”
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama met with the leader of the opposition’s Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Al-Jarba. The White House again voiced concern, however, that deadly aid requested by moderate opposition fighters on the ground could end up in the hands of extremists.
‘Our only war at the moment is against the [Assad] regime, which destroyed the country,’ the officer said
Referring to tactical cooperation between the Free Syrian Army and the Islamist Al-Nusra Front, the officer pointed out that any collaboration is based on an agreement with Al-Nusra that it will not play a role in Syria’s political future.
“However, we do not believe this, and we are taking precautions to prevent them from gaining power,” he said.
The greater danger to the region, he opined, stems from Hezbollah and Shiite militias entering from Iraq, which will never reach a modus vivendi with the moderate Free Syrian Army.
Free Syrian Army and Israel could cooperate, but quietly
The officer was “extremely pleased” to read statements by Israel’s former chief of military intelligence Amos Yadlin, who called on Israel Monday to introduce moral considerations to its list of strategic transgressions that could merit unilateral military intervention in Syria.
He said that the Free Syrian Army could cooperate with Israel tactically against Assad, while leaving the question of the disputed Golan Heights to a later stage. But Israel, like the US, seems to be hesitant about toppling the regime for fear that the alternative may be worse.
“Our only war at the moment is against the [Assad] regime, which destroyed the country,” he said. “That is our real enemy.”
He warned, however, that any tactical military cooperation between Israel and Syrian fighting forces must take place “extremely carefully and covertly,” since the regime would use any such information to delegitimize the FSA for collaborating with the enemy and selling out on the Golan Heights.
“Even certain Arab states cannot openly declare [their cooperation with the FSA] at the present time,” he noted. “But we feel as though Israel wants the [Assad] regime to remain, as though it helps him stay in power. This will be detrimental to the region in the future.”
Like the US, Israel is capable of neutralizing regime aircraft through its advanced radio jamming systems, he said.
“As a first step, this could be done in the Golan region, gradually expanding to Daraa and the Damascus region. At first, Israel’s role could be secret but nevertheless effective in helping the FSA. Later, a no-fly zone could be imposed, allowing refugee camps to be established within Syria’s territory administered by the FSA.
“I must warn however that at this stage, any exposure of collaboration will be counterproductive. The regime will seem patriotic and we will be [portrayed as] the traitors. We may also lose some of the Arab states that currently support us.”