Just when you thought the conflict in Syria couldn’t get any more confusing, the New York Times reports that Sudanese weapons are apparently making their way, on Ukrainian aircraft, to Syria, via Qatar and Turkey. Of course the latter countries’ involvement means these are not helping Bashar, unless you think his overthrow is good for his long-term life plans.
This means that the Sunni Islamist regime in North Africa, closely allied to China and Iran, is shipping locally- and Chinese-made weapons to Syrian rebels who are fighting against a regime whose survival is critical to Iran’s regional interests, as well as Hezbollah’s continued power in Lebanon.
The Assad regime’s brutal suppression of initially peaceful demonstrations have led to a stunningly bloody civil war, in which Syrian nationalist and Islamist fighters, sometimes allied to Kurdish separatists, turn increasingly heavier weaponry on the isolated but determined Assad regime, which sometimes nevertheless gets a respite because rebels also fight each other—or, as some insinuate, when it pushes rebels to fight each other, or blames its own attack on rebel fighters.
Also, Iraqi Kurds, who’ve become close allies of Turkey—pigs, by this point, have long since gotten used to flying—have recently threatened to intervene if Syria’s Kurds continue to be attacked. All this and we haven’t mentioned radical groups like Jabhat an-Nusra, whose media arm is named after the minaret where Jesus, the Muslim messiah, is supposed to descend…
…And of course the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which rounds out a confusing cast of characters. To make the conflict still more confusing, many of these jihadi and other radical fighters have made their way over from Iraq, into which they had arrived or whose terrible insecurity they exploited, after America’s disastrous invasion of that country, which as you remember was conducted without plan or foresight.
Weapons, and fighters, unleashed by the rebellion we supported in Libya are currently also making their way into the Sinai, which was best reported on by New York Review of Books’ Nicholas Pelham, and those weapons in turn are being aimed at Israel—or being smuggled into Gaza, allegedly, or being smuggled over to Syria. While some see Islamist fighters’ internecine spats as good for Israel, Israel’s own strategists are probably deeply concerned. Numerous and slippery movements with constant weapons flow back and forth are in some senses harder to deal with than typical nation-states.
The layers of intrigue and shifting alliances (we’re supporting a Sunni and often Islamist uprising against a secular Ba’ath Party backed by Iran) make a mockery of simplistic schemas to understand the Middle East. But sometimes, it seems, there is one and one motive alone that trumps all, which unites forces that would otherwise find themselves at opposite ends of global affairs. Consider this excerpt from the Times’ article:
After the missiles were shown destroying Syrian military helicopters, the matter took an unusual turn when a state-controlled newspaper in China, apparently acting on a marketing impulse, lauded the missile’s performance. “The kills are proof that the FN-6 is reliable and user-friendly, because rebel fighters are generally not well trained in operating missile systems,” the newspaper, Global Times, quoted a Chinese aviation analyst as saying.
The successful attacks on Syria’s helicopters by Chinese missiles brought “publicity” that “will raise the image of Chinese defense products on the international arms trade market,” the newspaper wrote.
The praise proved premature.
As the missiles were put to wider use, rebels began to complain, saying that more often than not they failed to fire or to lock on targets.