Saudi Arabia's Buying Yugoslavian Guns for the Syrian Rebels

The Atlantic

 

A steady stream of weapons from the Balkan has been flowing across the border and into Syrian rebels hands since December, thanks to some clandestine assistance from Saudi Arabia. According to the New York Times scoop on Monday night, the Saudis have been buying large quantities of small arms — "a particular type of Yugoslav-made recoilless gun, as well as assault rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars and shoulder-fired rockets" — from Croatia and shipping them to Syria via Jordan. As one of the United States' strongest and most important allies in the region, Saudi Arabia's more assertive assistance hints at more involvement from Western and regional powers, as the conflict between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his people remains a stalemate.

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News of the deeper Saudi involvement also raises the question of exactly what the United States is already doing to arm or otherwise assist the Syrian opposition. Ahead of the Times report, Secretary of State John Kerry revealed at a press conference in London that the Obama administration is ready to go to new lengths to help the rebels. "We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it's coming," said Kerry. "And we are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad." In the past, the U.S. and its allies have shied away from supplying the rebels with arms, for fear that they might inadvertently fall into the hands of jihadists. It's a reasonable fear to have, as well, since it was reported almost six months ago that most of the weapons being sent into Syria, some thanks to Saudi assistance, were indeed making it into the fighting hands of hard-line Islamist militants.

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Saudi Arabia's apparently figured out how to get guns into Syria without arming potential terrorists, though. One American official calls the move "a maturing of the opposition's logistical pipeline," and it's not entirely out of the question that the U.S. will take part in said maturing in the near future. But for now, everybody's keeping mum. Croatia denies selling any arms to anyone, though officials with knowledge of the matter think that guns were probably a surplus from the 1990s conflict in the Balkans. (Funnily enough, experts know about the new weapons because they kept seeing them pop up in YouTube videos.) Saudi Arabia won't comment on the weapons shipments, though it's not like it's a mystery that they've been supporting the rebels. Besides being outspoken about rallying support behind the Syrian opposition, Saudi Arabia actually commuted the death sentences of 1,200 inmates if they agreed to go and fight against Assad. No word yet on where their guns came from.

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