Foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War

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This article is about support to Syrian Civil War factions and international involvement. For humanitarian aid, see Humanitarian aid during the Syrian Civil War.
Map of countries surrounding Syria (red) with military involvement.
  Countries that support the Syrian government
  Countries that support the Syrian rebels
  Countries where support is divided between the Syrian government and the Syrian rebels

Foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War refers to political, military and operational support to parties involved in the Syrian Civil War, as well as to incidents of unintentional foreign involvement. Both the Syrian government and the opposition have received support, militarily, logistically and diplomatically, from foreign countries.

The Syrian government is politically and militarily supported by Iran and Russia.

The main Syrian opposition body, the Syrian coalition, receives logistic and political support from major Sunni states in the Middle East, most notably Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. France, Britain and the US have also provided political, military and logistic support to the opposition. Private groups and individuals have also supported militant opposition forces.

The Syrian Civil War has resulted in a large number of international incidents, including Lebanese–Syrian border clashes and strikes by the Syrian Army on Lebanese territory. Incidents involving the Syrian Army and Syrian rebels also took place on the Turkish, Jordanian, and Israeli borders with Syria. During 2013, the civil war in Syria merged with a rebellion against the government of neighboring Iraq.

Support for the Syrian government[edit]


Russia, whose Tartus naval base in Syria is its only one outside the former Soviet Union, has supplied Assad's government with arms as part of a business contract signed before the uprising began. Russia has also sent military and technical advisers to train Syrian soldiers to use the Russian-made weapons, and to help repair and maintain Syrian weapons.[1] Western diplomats have frequently criticized Russia's behavior, but Russia denied that its actions have violated any international law. Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Russia does not support either side.[2] Investigations by reporters also suggest that Russia is helping to keep the Syrian economy afloat by transporting hundreds of tonnes of banknotes into the country by airplane.[3]

A joint group of 10 Russian warships and an equal number of escort vessels led by an anti-submarine destroyer and including landing ships with marines on board, entered the Mediterranean in late July. The task force has been deployed at the time of escalating fighting in Syria with the United States avowing to "intensify" its efforts "outside the Security Council". In July 2012, Vice-Adm. Viktor Chirkov made the statement that should the base come under attack, the Russian base would be forced to evacuate.[4]

In December 2012, it was reported that "Russian military advisers" were inside Syria, manning some of the anti-aircraft defenses sent by Russia.[5]

In January 2014 Russia has stepped up its military support for the Syrian government by supplying new armored vehicles, surveillance equipment, radars, electronic warfare systems, spare parts for helicopters, and various weapons including guided bombs for planes.[6]


Iran and Syria are close strategic allies, and Iran has provided significant support for Syria in the Syrian Civil War. This is said to include technical support, some combat troops, and $9bn in financial support.[7] Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was reported in September 2011 to be vocally in favor of the Syrian government.[8] The Syrian city of Zabadani is vitally important to Assad and to Iran because, at least as late as June 2011, the city served as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps's logistical hub for supplying Hezbollah.[9]

In the civil uprising phase of the Syrian Civil War, Iran was said to be providing Syria with technical support based on Iran's capabilities developed following the 2009–2010 Iranian election protests.[8] As the uprising developed into civil war, there were increasing reports of Iranian military support, partly in response to reports of increasing military support to the Syrian opposition from Gulf states.[10][11]

Lebanese Hezbollah[edit]

Hezbollah has long been an ally of the Ba'ath Party government of Syria, led by the Al-Assad family. Hezbollah has allegedly helped the Syrian government in its fight against the armed Syrian opposition. In August 2012, the United States sanctioned Hezbollah for its alleged role in the war.[12] Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah denied Hezbollah had been fighting on behalf of the Syrian government, stating in a 12 October 2012 speech that "right from the start the Syrian opposition has been telling the media that Hezbollah sent 3,000 fighters to Syria, which we have denied".[13] However, he said that Hezbollah fighters have gone to Syria independently and died there doing their "jihadist duties".[14] Hezbollah states it supports a process of reforms in Syria and is against what it calls US plots to destabilize and interfere in Syria.[15]

In January–February 2012, Hezbollah fighters allegedly helped the government fight the rebels in Damascus and in the Battle of Zabadani.[16] Later that year, Hezbollah fighters crossed the border from Lebanon and took over eight villages in the Al-Qusayr District of Syria.[17] According to the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah fighters helped the Syrian government "retain control of some 23 strategically located villages [in Syria] inhabited by Shiites of Lebanese citizenship".[14] In September 2012, Hezbollah's commander in Syria, Ali Hussein Nassif, was killed along with several other Hezbollah militants in an ambush by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) near Al-Qusayr.[18]

On 16–17 February 2013, Syrian opposition groups claimed that Hezbollah, backed by the Syrian military, attacked three FSA-controlled Sunni villages in Al-Qusayr. An FSA spokesman said, "Hezbollah's invasion is the first of its kind in terms of organisation, planning and coordination with the Syrian regime's air force". Hezbollah said three Lebanese Shias, "acting in self-defense", were killed in the clashes with the FSA.[17][19] Lebanese security sources said that the three were Hezbollah members.[20] In response, the FSA allegedly attacked two Hezbollah positions on 21 February; one in Syria and one in Lebanon. Five days later, it said it destroyed a convoy carrying Hezbollah fighters and Syrian officers to Lebanon, killing all the passengers.[21] The leaders of the March 14 alliance and other prominent Lebanese figures called on Hezbollah to end its involvement in Syria and said it is putting Lebanon at risk.[22] Subhi al-Tufayli, Hezbollah's former leader, said "Hezbollah should not be defending the criminal regime that kills its own people and that has never fired a shot in defense of the Palestinians". He said "those Hezbollah fighters who are killing children and terrorizing people and destroying houses in Syria will go to hell".[23] The Consultaive Gathering, a group of Shia and Sunni leaders in Baalbek-Hermel, also called on Hezbollah not to "interfere" in Syria. They said "Opening a front against the Syrian people and dragging Lebanon to war with the Syrian people is very dangerous and will have a negative impact on the relations between the two".[20] Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, also called on Hezbollah to end its involvement[22] and claimed that "Hezbollah is fighting inside Syria with orders from Iran".[24]

The Jerusalem Post reported that protesters in Syria, enraged at Hezbollah's support for the Syrian government, have burnt Hezbollah flags and images of Nasrallah,[25] while pro-government protesters have carried posters of Nasrallah.[26]

According to the US, the Assad loyalist militia known as Jaysh al-Sha'bi was created and is maintained by Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guard, both of whom provide it with money, weapons, training and advice.[27] Also, according to Israeli intelligence sources, Hezbollah is working to forge loyalist government militias into a 100,000-strong irregular army to fight alongside the government's conventional forces.[28]

In February 2015, an official document concerning the interrogation of an Iranian prisoner that was conducted by the United Al-Sham [Greater Syria] Front of the Free Syrian Army reveals that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah have built a military and terrorist infrastructure on the Syrian Golan. The document reveals information about ‘sleeper cells’ that have been trained by Hezbollah and the IRGC, and cooperate with them such as by conveying information on the movement of the rebels and the commanders. A monetary sum of 100,000-200,000 Syrian liras has been budgeted expressly for those [spies] who carry out a suicide attack against the Free Syrian Army.[29]

Airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in Syria[edit]

On 30 January 2013, about ten jets bombed a convoy believed to be carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Lebanon. The attack, attributed by some media reports to Israeli airforce, did not result in any counterattacks from Syria, although Syria has said it reserves the right to retaliate.[30] Western intelligence sources reported that Iranian general Hassan Shateri had been killed in the airstrike. Iran acknowledged his death at the hands of the Israelis without further details.[31] Israel refused to comment on its involvement in the incident.[citation needed]

News organizations reported that Israel attacked Syria on the night between 2 and 3 May 2013. US officials said that the Israeli war planes shot into Syria from Lebanese air space, and that the warplanes did not enter Syrian air space. No counter-attacks by Syria were reported at any front, and the Syrian ambassador to the UN said that he was not aware of any attacks on Syria by Israel. Israel as well declined any comment. Another alleged attack was reported to be a set of massive explosions in Damascus on the night of 4–5 May 2013. Syrian state media described this as an "Israeli rocket attack", with the targets including a military research center of the Syrian government in Jamraya.[32][33] The Daily Telegraph reported anonymous Israeli sources as saying that this was an Israeli attack on Iranian-made guided missiles allegedly intended to be shipped to Hezbollah.[34] The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, said at least 42 Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes.[35]

Another violent event, possibly linking Israel, occurred in July 2013 in Latakia. Both Syria and Israel denied any report, while Hezbollah claimed that large explosions in Latakia area were caused by rebel mortar fire. Reportedly, the attack targeted Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles near the city of Latakia, and killed several Syrian troops.[36] Russian news agency also reported of Turkish involvement in the incident.[37]

On November 2013, a US official stated that Israel conducted an air strike on a Syrian weapons store near Latakia.[38]

Other parties[edit]


In February 2012, it was reported that Hugo Chávez's government in Venezuela had been shipping tens of millions of dollars of diesel to Syria, which can be used to fuel army tanks.[39] The following month, as it prepared a third shipment, Venezuela confirmed that it would continue sending diesel to the country.[40] The Wall Street Journal obtained documents showing that a fourth big shipment of diesel was being readied in July 2012: "the deals are structured to bring other benefits, including shielding Syria's dwindling foreign-exchange reserves". The paper also noted that even "Syria's political opposition is split on the issue of cutting off all energy exports to the country. While they would like to see Mr. Assad's tanks run out of fuel, they also worry that a shortage of diesel could equally undermine the political and military opposition inside Syria."[41] Chávez openly expressed his support for Assad's government while he was alive.[42][43]

North Korea (DPRK)

On 21 September 2012, Iraqi officials stated that they had refused a North Korean plane suspected of carrying weapons entry into Iraqi airspace en route to Syria.[44] Earlier in the year, a UN probe was launched into North Korean arms deals with Syria and Myanmar in violation of international sanctions.[45] The probe confirmed that North Korea was continuing to supply arms to Syria and Myanmar despite strict sanctions imposed in 2006 and 2009, using "elaborate techniques" to avoid interception.[46] According to the report, one such "shipment originated in the DPRK, was trans-shipped in Dalian (China), and Port Klang (Malaysia), and transited through other ports... en route to Latakia, Syria."[47] Illegal shipments were apparently not halted by the outbreak of war in Syria: according to a November 2012 report, a Chinese-registered ship containing North Korean missile parts, made in Chongjin,[48] bound for Syria was seized by South Korean authorities in May 2012.[48][49]

Other reports suggest that dozens of Arabic-speaking Korean People's Army officers have aided planning of military operations and have supervised artillery bombardments in the Aleppo area.[50] The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that 15 North Korean pilots operate combat helicopters in the country.[51]


China vetoed a proposed UN Security Council resolution in tandem with Russia. Jerusalem Post correspondent Oren Kessler reported that Beijing's veto was enacted in the interests of preserving its ties with Russia.[52] In September 2012, China announced that it was "impartial" on the Syrian Civil War, distancing itself from the Syrian government. After a meeting with Hillary Clinton, the Chinese foreign minister declared that the government was willing to "support a period of political transition in Syria," although the country is still reluctant to support foreign intervention.[53]


Algeria has been one of a small number of Arab and Islamic states, to oppose punitive measures against the Syrian government. It opposed (with Iran) Syria's suspension from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 2012. It also opposed the Arab League decisions to encourage military support for the Syrian Opposition among member states, and opposed recognition of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, both decisions undertaken by the Arab League in 2013. Algeria was supported in its position by only two other Arab League states, Iraq and Lebanon. There is no concrete evidence that Algeria has been directly arming the Assad government, but there are rumours of Algerian military aircraft regularly landing in Syria. The Algerian government is believed to be strongly opposed to regime change in Syria.[54]


From 2011, Iraqi Government has sent Assad financial support.[55] Iraq has opened its airspace for use by Iranian planes ferrying support to the Syrian government, and has granted trucks bound for Syria carrying supplies from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards passage through Iraqi territory.[56][57] Iraqi government has signed a deal to provide Syria with diesel fuel.[56]


The Houthis have urged their supporters in Northern Yemen to support the Syrian government. It has been alleged by a defected Syrian air-force brigadier that the Houthis supplied 200 fighters to participate in the Siege of Maarat al-Numaan and the Jisr al-Shughur operation.[58]


23 and 24 February 2011, Lebanese Military Intelligence agents arrested six members of one Syrian family after they distributed flyers in Lebanon calling for protests against the Syrian government. 25 February, one of them with two of his brothers vanished in Lebanon without leaving a trace. Human Rights Watch feared that Lebanon is back shutting up Syrian critics, perhaps forcibly transferring them to Syria.[59]


A Greece-based trading company, Naftomar, is reputedly the last firm arranging deliveries of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), but, unlike the fuel sent from Venezuela and Russia, LPG is a peaceful material that plays a vital role in countries like Syria that have limited infrastructure for piping gas. International sanctions do not apply to LPG for humanitarian reasons.[60]

The release of WikiLeaks's "Syria Files" beginning in July 2012 led to accusations that the subsidiary of an Italian arms company had provided communications equipment to the Syrian military in May 2011, and that, as late as February 2012, its engineers gave training on the use of the communications technology, including how it could be installed in helicopters.[61] The company said the equipment was for civilian use and said it had not sold any technology to Syria since the beginning of the uprising.[62]

According to the a report in the Daily Mail, British companies sold sodium fluoride, which has many civil applications such as water fluoridation, but is also a key ingredient in the manufacture of sarin, to a Syrian firm from 2004-2010. Between July 2004 and May 2010, the British government issued five export licenses to two companies, with the last export license was issued in May 2010. The licenses are obtained prior to manufacture and the industry standard requires four to five months before the chemicals are delivered, thus allowing them to sell Syria sodium fluoride.[63]

Support for the opposition[edit]

France and Britain[edit]

In November 2011, NATO said it had no intention of taking military action in Syria, after it closed its seven-month campaign in Libya.[64] In that same month, Libyan rulers offered weapons, money and potential volunteers,[65] it was reported that 600 rebel fighters have gone from Libya to Syria in order to support the rebels.[66]

In June 2012, Reuters suggested that the prospect of British special forces entering Syria on the ground is growing, following unconfirmed reports from an Israeli website that SAS Commandos were conducting covert operations within Syrian territory, operating from Turkey on 26 June 2012.[67]

At a conference in Paris in 2012, Western and Sunni Arab countries nonetheless announced they were going to "massively increase" aid to the Syrian opposition.[68]

In 2012, the United States,[69] United Kingdom[70] and France[71] provided opposition forces with non-lethal military aid, including communications equipment and medical supplies. The U.K. was also reported to have provided intelligence support from its Cyprus bases, revealing Syrian military movements to Turkish officials, who then pass on the information to the FSA.[72]

A crucial line of support began in spring 2012 as Saudi Arabia and Qatar announced they would begin arming and bankrolling the opposition.[73][74] Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, and Emile Hokayem of the International Institute of Strategic Studies argued such support would be unlikely to immediately make a decisive impact.[75][76] A ship carrying weapons from Libya believed destined for Syria's rebels has also been intercepted.[77] Qatar is reported to be shipping arms to Sunni Islamists in Syria as a means of cementing alliances in the Middle East.[78]

On 22 April 2013 the European Union lifted its embargo on Syrian oil to import barrels directly from rebel groups. Several of the oil fields are believed to be under control of Jabhat al-Nusra. Some analysts say the decision might also set up a deadly competition between rebel groups over the resource.[79]

In late August 2013 a number of commercial pilots and local residents have reported seeing increased numbers of British military aircraft at RAF Akrotiri including C-130 transports and fighter aircraft.[80]

A vote was held within the British House of Commons on 29 August 2013 to decide whether the United Kingdom would join the United States in initiating militant action against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government. Despite support from the Prime Minister David Cameron, the motion was defeated by 285 votes to 272. Cameron said that he would respect this Parliamentary decision and that the United Kingdom would not partake in military action against Syria.[81]

On 19 September 2013, French President François Hollande hinted that France was ready to begin supplying lethal aid to the Free Syrian Army during a press conference in Bamako in a "controlled framework". Hollande told the conference that "On delivering weapons we have always said that we want to control these supplies so that they do indeed go to the Free Syrian Army ... because they represent the Syrian National Coalition that we recognise as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and today they are caught between a hammer and an anvil. The hammer is the air strikes and actions of the Syrian regime and the anvil is radical Islam.”[82]

United States[edit]

Under the administration's division of labor, the State Department is in charge of supplying nonlethal aid (includes food rations and pickup trucks, not tanks and bullets), while the C.I.A. runs a covert program to arm and train the Syrian rebels.[83]

In June 2012, the Central Intelligence Agency was reported to be involved in covert operations along the Turkish-Syrian border, where agents investigated rebel groups, recommending arms providers which groups to give aid to. Agents also helped opposition forces develop supply routes, and provided them with communications training.[84] CIA operatives distributed assault rifles, anti-tank rocket launchers and other ammunition to Syrian opposition. The State Department has reportedly allocated $15 million for civilian opposition groups in Syria.[10]

In July 2012, the United States government granted a non-governmental organization called Syrian Support Group a license to fund the Free Syrian Army.[85]

In early March 2013, a Jordanian security source revealed that the United States, Britain, and France were training non-Islamist rebels in Jordan. In an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad's fall.[86] In April 2013, also in Jordan, the United States had set up a $70 million program in the country "that is training the kingdom's special forces to identify and secure chemical-weapons sites across Syria should the regime fall and the wrong rebels look like getting their hands on them."[87]

In April 2013, the Obama administration promised to double non-lethal aid to rebels, specifically to $250 million.[88]

On 13 June, government officials state that the Obama administration, after days of high-level meetings, has approved providing lethal arms to the Supreme Military Council (SMC).[89] The SMC is a rebel command structure that includes representatives from most major rebel groups, and excludes the Islamic extremist elements.[90] The decision was made shortly after the administration has concluded that the Assad government has used chemical weapons on opposition forces, thus crossing the "red line" drawn by Obama earlier in 2012.[91] The arms will include small arms and ammunition, and possibly anti-tank weapons.[92] However, they will not include anti-aircraft weapons, something repeatedly requested by the armed opposition.[92] Further such weapons would be supplied by the US "on our own timeline".[93] The United States is also considering a no-fly zone in southern Syria, which would allow a safe place to equip and train rebels.[94]

During September 2013, it was reported by US officials that under "a covert CIA program," small arms and anti tank weapons had begun reaching some moderate rebel groups. Although Free Syrian Army Commander Salim Idriss denied receiving lethal aid, some analysts commented that information on US arms may not have reached Idriss due to poor communications as the Free Syrian Army command was based in Northern Syria whilst weapons were reportedly reaching rebel groups in the south.[95]

In December 2013, The United States suspended the shipments of nonlethal military aid including food rations, medical kits and pickup trucks after warehouses of equipment were seized by the Islamic Front. The Islamic Front is a coalition of Islamist fighters that broke with the American-backed Free Syrian Army, a secular Syrian opposition.[83]

Obama administration is considering the resumption of nonlethal military aid to Syria's moderate opposition.[83] Daniel Serwer, a professor of conflict management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "It makes sense if it will tip the scales away from Al Qaeda-type extremists. The Islamic Front is likely to be the best antidote to them."[83]

In August 2014, Hillary Clinton said in an interview that the US decision not to intervene early in the Syrian civil war was a “failure”.[96]

Arab League[edit]

Sunni Arab states are concerned that the Iranian arms transfers are changing the balance of power in the region and has "become a regional contest for primacy in Syria between Sunni Arabs and the Iran-backed Assad government and Hezbollah of Lebanon."[97] Iran is using the Maharaj Airlines to ship weapons to Syrian government.[97]

On 6 March 2013, the Arab League gave its members the "green light" to arm the Syrian rebels.[98] On 26 March 2013, at the Arab league summit in Doha, the League recognised the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.[99]


The Financial Times reported that Qatar had funded the Syrian rebellion by "as much as $3 billion" over the first two years of the civil war.[100] It reported that Qatar was offering refugee packages of about $50,000 a year to defectors and family.[100]

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that Qatar had sent the most weapons to Syria, with over 70 weapons cargo flights into Turkey between April 2012 and March 2013.[100][101]

Qatar operates a training base in its territory, in conjunction with the CIA who run the training, training about 1,200 rebel soldiers a year on three week courses.[102][103]


From at least the 2014 June Offensive in Iraq, ISIL Leadership has been threatening to overthrow the monarchy of Jordan and to invade Jordan once it takes Baghdad.[104] The Jordanian Air Force joined in the US-led bombing of ISIL in Syria.[105] Jihadist troops have retaliated by firing into Jordan and there has been increased sniping at the border.[106]

On 24 December 2014, a Jordanian fighter jet was shot down over Syria and it's pilot, Jordanian air force lieutenant Muath Al-Kasasbeh, captured. This pilot was executed by burning in January 2015 and was later used to attempt to recover jailed terrorists. Jordan offered to make the exchange, but demanded "proof of life" first, this wasn't done, and the video of the pilot's execution was released. In response, the terrorists, Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli, were executed,(USA Today) and Jordan took the lead on anti-ISIL bombing raids, claiming nearly a thousand KOI in a week.

Saudi Arabia[edit]

The Financial Times reported in May 2013 that Saudi Arabia was becoming a larger provider of arms to the rebels.[100] Since the summer of 2013, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the main group to finance and arm the rebels.[107] Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons, such as Yugoslav-made recoilless guns and the M79 Osa, an anti-tank weapon, from Croatia via shipments shuttled through Jordan.[97] The weapons began reaching rebels in December 2012 which allowed rebels' small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Assad.[97] This was to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to Assad's forces.[97]

Bashar al-Assad pointed at Saudi Arabia as the major supporter of terrorists and "leading the most extensive operation of direct sabotage against all the Arab world".[108]

Croatian weapons[edit]

In December 2012, a new wave of weapons from foreign supporters were transferred to rebel forces via the Jordanian border in the country's south. The arms included M79 Osa anti-tank weapons and M-60 recoilless rifles purchased by Saudi Arabia from Croatia. Previously, most of the weapons were delivered via the Turkish border in the north. However, much of the arms unintentionally ended up in the hands of Islamist rebels. The goal for the change in routes was to strengthen moderate rebels and to bring the war closer to Damascus.[109][110]

According to Jutarnji list, a Croatian daily newspaper, there were an unusually high number of sightings of Ilyushin 76 aircraft owned by Jordan International Air Cargo at Pleso Airport in Zagreb, Croatia on December 14 and 23, 2012; January 6; and February 18, 2013.[97] In early January 2013, Yugoslav weapons were seen used in battles in the Dara'a region near Jordan.[97] Then, in February 2013, Yugoslav weapons were seen in videos posted by rebels fighting in the Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo regions.[97] Danijela Barisic of Croatia's Foreign Ministry and arms-export agency denied that such shipments had occurred.[97] Saudi officials have declined requests for interviews about the shipments for two weeks.[97] Ukrainian-made rifle cartridges, Swiss-made hand grenades, Belgian-made rifles are showing up in the rebels hands but the origin is not clear because Saudi Arabia has insisted on secrecy.[97]

Bandar bin Sultan[edit]

In August 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan had been appointed to lead Saudi Arabia's efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and that the US Central Intelligence Agency considered this a sign of how serious Saudi Arabia was about this aim. Bandar was described as "jetting from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to the Élysée Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime." After tensions with Qatar over supplying rebel groups, Saudi Arabia switched its efforts from Turkey to Jordan in 2012, using its financial leverage over Jordan to develop training facilities there, overseen by Bandar's half-brother Salman bin Sultan. In late 2012 Saudi intelligence also began efforts to convince the US that the Assad government was using chemical weapons.[111] The Saudi government also would be sending sentenced to death for Jihad in Syria.[112]


Turkey, whose relations with Syria had been friendly over the last decade, condemned Assad over the violent crackdown and has requested his departure from office. Turkey trained defectors of the Syrian Army on its territory, and in July 2011 a group of them announced the birth of the Free Syrian Army under the supervision of Turkish military intelligence.[113] In October 2011, Turkey began sheltering the Free Syrian Army, offering the group a safe zone and a base of operation.Together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey has also provided the rebels with arms and other military equipment. Tensions between Syria and Turkey significantly worsened after Syrian forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet in June 2012 and border clashes in October 2012.[114]

Turkey provided refuge for Syrian dissidents. Syrian opposition activists convened in Istanbul in May to discuss regime change,[115] and Turkey hosts the head of the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riad al-Asaad.[116] Turkey has become increasingly hostile to the Assad government's policies and has encouraged reconciliation among dissident factions. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been trying to "cultivate a favorable relationship with whatever government would take the place of Assad."[117] Beginning in May 2012, some Syrian opposition fighters began being armed and trained by the Turkish Intelligence.[118]

Turkey maintains a small enclave within Syria itself, the Tomb of Suleyman Shah on the right bank of the Euphrates in Aleppo Province near the village of Qarah Qawzak (Karakozak). The Tomb is guarded by a small permanent garrison of Turkish soldiers, who rotate in from a battalion based at the Turkish border some 25 kilometres (16 mi) away—even as the civil war unfolded around them.[119] Up until Syrian forces shot down a Turkish warplane in June 2012, the garrison numbered 15 men in total. Following the incident, the Turkish government doubled the number of soldiers stationed at the tomb to 30, while Prime Minister Erdoğan warned that "the tomb of Suleyman Shah and the land that surrounds it are Turkish territory. Any act of aggression against it would be an attack on our territory and NATO territory." Analysts have cited the Tomb as a potential future flashpoint in Turkish-Syrian relations.[120]

Foreign rebel fighters[edit]

There have been a number of foreign fighters that have joined the Syrian Civil War in opposition to Assad. While some are jihadists, others, such as Mahdi al-Harati, have joined to help the Syrian revolution.[121] Some fighters have come from as far away as Chechnya and Tajikistan.[122] Another group, the Al-Nusra Front, is headed by Abu Muhammad al-Julani[123] The group includes some of the rebellion's most battle-hardened and effective fighters. However, U.S. has formally designated the Al Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist organization. "Extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra are a problem, an obstacle to finding the political solution that Syria's going to need," said the American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford.[124]

Al-Qaeda and affiliates are anti-Assad. American officials believe that Al-Qaeda in Iraq has conducted bomb attacks against government forces,[125] and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri condemned Assad.[126] Several groups, such as the Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade, al-Nusra Front and Fatah al-Islam[127] have stated that they conducted operations in Syria. Jihadist leaders and intelligence sources said foreign fighters had begun to enter Syria only in February 2012.[128] In May 2012, Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar Ja'afari declared that dozens of foreign fighters from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Britain, France and elsewhere had been captured or killed, and urged Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop "their sponsorship of the armed rebellion".[129] In June, it was reported that hundreds of foreign fighters, many linked to al-Qaeda, had gone to Syria to fight against Assad.[130] In July, Iraq's foreign minister again warned that members of al-Qaeda in Iraq were seeking refuge in Syria and moving there to fight.[131] When asked if the United States would arm the opposition, Hillary Clinton expressed fears that such weapons could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda or Hamas.[132] In October 2012, the United States expressed concern and confirmed that most of the weapons fall into the hands of radical Islamist rebels.[133]

In an interview with the Abkhazian News Agency Anna, a senior Syrian government official made allegations that former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army were fighting in Syria with the opposition.[134] Reuters reported that a French doctor who worked clandestinely for 2 weeks in a besieged Aleppo hospital has said that over 50% of rebel fighters attended by him in Aleppo had been non-Syrian, in stark contrast with his experience in Homs and Idlib.[135]

Free Iraqi Army

In the western Sunni-majority provinces of Iraq, soldiers and war supplies have been crossing from Anbar Province into Syria.[56] Armed groups inside Iraq have formed a Free Iraqi Army[136][137] and have been supportive of the Syrian uprising against the Syrian government.[56]

Diplomatic isolation of Syrian government[edit]

Some countries have cut ties with the Assad government including: the GCC States, Libya, Tunisia,[138] Britain, Spain, Poland, Turkey, Canada, the United States and Belgium.[139]

On 16 August 2012 the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) suspended Syria's membership in the OIC, despite opposition by Iran, due to "President Assad's violent suppression of the uprising".[140]

Support for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant[edit]

For most of 2013 and '14, the Turkish government had maintained a "Jihadi highway" where militants from ISIS and other radical groups could come and go freely, especially after the war spilled over into Iraq. Other countries have been surruptitiously supporting the group prior to its exponential growth in the spring of 2014.

On November 18, 2014 Heather Coffman, a woman from Virginia, was arrested by US federal officials and charged in connection to ISIS recruitment.[141]

Weapon sales controversies[edit]


In July 2012, Switzerland ceased arms exports to the UAE after it emerged Swiss weapons were finding their way to opposition fighters.[142] The Swiss decision came shortly after the UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, called for an urgent stop to arms transfers to government and opposition forces so as to avoid "further militarisation" of the conflict.[143] The director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy had previously argued that, while "uncontrolled militarization will turn the Syrian uprising into a wider conflict that could draw in jihadis and other extremists from across the Muslim World", militarisation was inevitable, and so the US should help facilitate and guide it.[144] Marc Lynch argued the opposite in February 2012, as the provision of weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar was being mooted: "It is unlikely that arms from the outside would come close to evening the balance of power, and would only invite escalations from Syrian regime forces".[145]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "French direct aid a dubious break for Syria rebels". London. The Guardian. September 7, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Russia denies arming Syria". The Irish Times. Irish Times. June 1, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2012. 
  3. ^ Syria’s crisis: Bashar bashed
  4. ^ "Russian Navy to evacuate Syrian base in emergency". Russia Today. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Russian military presence in Syria poses challenge to US-led intervention". The Guardian, 23 December 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  6. ^ "Exclusive: Russia steps up military lifeline to Syria's Assad - sources". Reuters. 17 January 2014. 
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