DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 18, 2013,
NATO and a number of European governments, most significantly the UK, have started airlifting heavy weapons to the Syrian rebels poised in Aleppo to fend off a major Syrian army offensive, according to debkafile’s exclusive military sources. They disclose that the first shipments were landed Monday night, June 17, and early Tuesday in Turkey and Jordan. They contained anti-air and tank missiles as well as recoilless 120 mm cannons mounted on jeeps. From there, they were transferred to rebel forces in southern Syria and Aleppo in the northwest.
Our sources report that the first weapons reached rebel-held positions in Aleppo early Tuesday. More than 2,000 Hizballah troops are standing by to enter the decisive contest between Assad’s army and the opposition for control of Syria’s second most important city.
The hardware for the rebels is coming in from three sources:
- 1. NATO stores in Europe, which have been filling up in the past year with arms evacuated from Afghanistan. These weapons have been in operational use and are not new.
- 2. The Libyan black market.
- 3. The Balkan black market, chiefly Serbia and Montenegro.
Monday, Syrian President Bashar Assad cautioned Europe it would pay the price for delivering arms to rebel forces in Syria. In an interview to in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he said: “If the Europeans deliver weapons, the backyard of Europe will become terrorist…”
The volume of the new arms airlift to the Syrian rebels may be estimated by the number of airfreight flights from Libya to Turkey: 27 aircraft landings were counted in the last few days, according to our intelligence sources.
This major Western policy reversal on the arming of the Syrian opposition — combined with the Obama administration’s decision last week to provide the rebels with military aid — was graphically registered in the glum miens of Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at their meeting Monday on the first day of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Beyond exchanging bare courtesies, neither concealed the deep rift between them on Syria — even in the presence of reporters and TV cameras.
Tuesday, the Group of Eight had its work cut out to formulate a Syrian item in its final communiquÃ© that would be acceptable to all seven plus the Russian president. However, in Syria itself, all the signs portend the lengthening of the conflict: Russia is expected to respond to Western arms supplies to the rebels by ramping up its own military assistance to the Assad regime.
The word from Moscow Tuesday was that if the West does try to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, Russian flights will continue, in defiance of any such restrictions.