Fighters from a shadowy militant group with suspected links to al-Qaeda joined Syrian rebels in seizing a government missile-defense base in northern Syria on Friday, according to activists and amateur video.It was unclear whether the rebels were able to hold the base after the attack, and analysts questioned whether they would be able to make use of any of the missiles they might have taken.Nevertheless, the assault underscored fears of advanced weaponry falling into the hands of extremists, whose role in Syria’s civil war appears to be increasing.
The assault also demonstrated the fighting prowess of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Qaeda ally that some observers say led—not just participated in—the assault on the missile base. As the AP makes clear in a different article published earlier today:
President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime is believed to have one of the largest chemical-weapons stockpiles in the world. […]Syria’s suspected arsenal is scattered across a number of locations, mainly in the north and west, where fighting between rebels and Assad’s forces has been the heaviest.
Jabhat al-Nusra claims responsibility for huge bomb attacks in Aleppo and Damascus during the civil war. Imagine if they got their hands on other sophisticated weaponry, like chemical weapons.Opportunities for terrorist or simple black market operatives to get their hands on serious weapons are growing every day and the United States has an important national interest in ending the war as quickly as possible and in a way that minimizes the chances of the bad guys getting hold of the big guns.The present situation — a stalemated civil war with radical groups able to raise funds and train recruits without the less horrible groups having a decisive advantage from U.S, and other foreign support — is the worst possible status quo from both a humanitarian and a U.S. interest standpoint. This isn’t getting any prettier as it drags on.Via Meadia doesn’t want American combat troops in Syria and we don’t want airstrikes. The goal is to get Assad out without getting the Americans or Al-Qaeda in; that involves aid to selected rebel groups and perhaps backing for Turkey. In situations like this any administration will try to act quietly and behind the scenes; we hope that some very fast off-camera moves are being made in Washington DC.This isn’t about starting new wars in the Middle East. It’s about keeping the United States out of the Syrian mess — and if Al-Qaeda-type groups get chemical or other serious weapons we will be drawn in. And it’s about taking Iran’s regional ambitions down a peg by ousting its client regime; once that’s done, our chances improve of getting an agreement with the mullahs that we can live with.A policy of wringing our hands and hoping may look like a policy of disengagement, but the result is likely to be deeper American military involvement in a toxic region. Drifting makes it more likely that something in Syria will require our intervention, as well as stiffening the resolve of Iranian hardliners to tough it out on the bomb. Doing something small, ugly and non-military now is our best chance to avoid doing something big, ugly and military later on.