U.S. won’t help Syrian rebels this year

The Telegraph reports: Despite mounting fury from the Syrian rebels, who are seeking assistance for their efforts to overthrow the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the White House has refused all requests for heavy weapons and intelligence support.

Syrian lobby groups in Washington, who only a few weeks ago were expressing hope that the Obama administration might give a green light to the supply of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, said they had now been forced to “take a reality pill” by the US government.

The Telegraph understands that the Syrian Support Group (SSG), the political wing of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), recently presented American officials with a document requesting 1,000 RPG-29 anti-tank missiles, 500 SAM-7 rockets, 750 23mm machine guns as well as body armour and secure satellite phones. They also asked for $6m to pay rebel fighters as they battle the regime. All their requests were rejected.

“Basically the message is very clear; nothing is going to happen until after the election, in fact nothing will happen until after inauguration [Jan 2013]. And that is the same message coming from everyone, including the Turks and the Qataris,” said a Washington lobbyist for the group.

The Obama administration has also made clear to its allies that it will not intervene, a message that was carried to London last week by Tom Donilon, the White House National Security Adviser, who made a low-profile stop en route to Israel.

Sources in Washington who were familiar with the matter said Mr Donilon had made it “abundantly clear” that there was no room for increased US involvement in Syria.

Syrian lobby groups in Washington have thus far been reluctant to speak publicly about their frustrations with the Obama government for fear of alienating White House officials, but also giving succor to the Assad regime.

However, a third lobby group contacted by The Telegraph, but who asked to remain anonymous, said that they too had come up against a White House ‘red line’, despite some earlier receptiveness from the State Department.

“No-one wants to touch this,” the group’s representative said, “Not the White House, not the Congressional committee on foreign affairs. It is clear we will have to play a longer game.”

Fears that the disparate rebel groups are being infiltrated by Al Qa’eda have also reduced appetite in the US for better arming the rebels, either directly or with the help of third-party countries such as Libya, Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

Foreign Policy published the results of a poll indicating what kind of actions American would support in Syria. Although a majority (58 percent) said they would support a no-fly zone, an even larger majority (72 percent) oppose bombing Syrian air defenses — an action that would be required in order to create a no-fly zone. Like many polls, one wonders whether the questions were posed in such a way that respondents could answer them intelligently. No doubt most people who said they support a no-fly zone didn’t understand that a no-fly zone can’t be put in place without first disabling air defense systems.

The Chicago Council Survey, fielded May 25 through June 8, asked over 1,800 Americans about a series of diplomatic and military options the United States could pursue along with its allies to stem the fighting in Syria. It found that the American public was generally ready to support limited measures, even before the fighting extended toward Damascus, but had little appetite for more direct actions. Six out of ten said they supported increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Syrian regime (63 percent), and nearly as many said they would support enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria (58 percent). Beyond these options, there is limited support for sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups in Syria (27 percent; 67 percent oppose), bombing Syrian air defenses (22 percent; 72 percent oppose), or sending troops into Syria (14 percent; 81 percent oppose).

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