Russia Sends Troops to Syria as Some Rebels Look to Israel

by RYAN MAURO March 22, 2012
ABC News has broken the story that Russia has deployed an “anti-terror squad” from its marines to Syria. Their only conceivable purpose is to train, oversee and perhaps directly participate in Bashar Assad’s bloodbath. Meanwhile, the rebels are asking for help from anywhere. And, amazingly, for some, that includes Israel.
The Russian intervention on the side of Bashar Assad isn’t surprising. Russia and Syria have a long-standing strategic alliance. Russia accounted for about 80% of Syria’s imports over the past five years and it has a major naval base there. Russia also secretly rushed to the aid of Saddam Hussein right before his toppling. Two former Soviet generals arrived in Iraq and were awarded with medals. It’s been reported that Russian Spetsnaz units were also in Iraq, leading to suspicions that they helped wipe away Russian fingerprints on illicit activity and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.
The Russian unit’s presence in Syria means two positive things: The Assad regime believes that the assistance it’s receiving from Iran is inadequate and it fears for its future even though the military has taken back the areas of Homs and Idlib seized by the rebels.
While Assad enjoys foreign support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, the rebels are desperately crying out for their own support—even if that means reaching out to Israel.
An Israeli legislator says that members of the Syrian opposition told him that they want to “be friends” with Israel after Assad falls. He is urging Israel to send medical and humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. A “key figure” in the Free Syria Army going by the name of “Kamal” sat with an Israeli journalist and asked for the country’s help. He admitted that “Syrian public opinion is still not ready for links with Israel” but that “Eventually, everything comes to light, and the Syrian people would not forget this gesture.” He complained about Turkey’s restrictions on the Syrian rebels and seemed to agree when the journalist suggested that Israel would be a better ally.
An exchange between a Syrian citizen and a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces on Facebook was particularly inspiring. The citizen wrote on the spokesman’s page that “we do not want war with you” and “we genuinely want peace” and warned Israel not to fall for Assad’s trick of painting his opposition as Islamist diehards.
On February 10, a Syrian cleric named Sheikh Adnan Aroor in Saudi Arabia bashed the Arab world on television for not coming to the aid of the Syrian people. On air, he requested that Israel provide the aid that the Muslim world is not. “I think we should even appeal to Israel…If it is possible, we appeal to them to treat the wounded,” he said.
The refusal of the West to help the Syrian rebels leaves a gap open that is being filled by Islamist governments, the Muslim Brotherhood and even Al-Qaeda-linked militants. The three car bombings over the weekend are the latest evidence that Al-Qaeda-types are coming in. Turkey is again talking about establishing a “buffer zone” inside Syria to help with handling the flow of refugees. Saudi Arabia is reportedly sending equipment to the rebels via Jordan (which Jordan denies) and the Saudi, Qatari and Kuwaiti governments are openly talking about shipping arms.
The West needs to realize that these Islamists are shaping the future of Syria by becoming involved now. It is true that the Assad regime has overtaken the rebel strongholds, but new strongholds pop right up.
On Monday, the rebels showed the world that their fight wasn’t over. Damascus saw its worst fightingsaysonly three people died but the opposition says 25 from each side were killed and at least 18 security personnel were injured.
The death toll isn’t what is so significant. It is the location. The rebels showed up in a neighborhood in the capital that many regime officials call home and where there are security buildings.
The regime is winning militarily, but the opposition still has the momentum. Also on Monday, the rebels destroyed a government ministry building in Deir Ezzour were the regime is now focusing its attention.  In Idlib, the rebels videotapedone of their IEDs destroying a tank shortly after the regime claimed that it had restored full control.
In recent days, Al-Jazeera got access to top-secret regime documents obtainedby a secret agent that the opposition had. The mole was part of a secret leadership unit that coordinates the crackdown. And, as always, defectors continue to leave the regime and join the opposition.
The rebels seem to be slowly wearing down the regime but victory is uncertain. The civil war in Syria is now an international conflict with Iran and Russia on the side of Assad and Islamists, Turkey and the Arab states backing the rebels. Israel and the West are morally supporting the rebels but are otherwise staying out of it, instead choosing to let the countries in the region take the lead.
The conflict in Syria is winner-takes-all. For the regime, defeat means its end. For the opposition, defeat means death, torture and imprisonment. The victor will be the side with the most generous friends.
Ryan Mauro is Family Security Matters national security analyst. He is a fellow with, the founder of and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at

Ryan Mauro is Family Security Matters' national security analyst. He is a fellow with, the founder of and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at

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