The conspiring of outside interests.
We reached a point in the fighting, in spring 2012, when we needed proper support. We needed heavy machine guns, real weapons. Money was never an issue: how much do you want? Fifty million dollars, a hundred million dollars – not a problem. But heavy weapons were becoming hard to find: the Turks – and without them this revolution wouldn’t have started – wanted the Americans to give them the green light before they would allow us to ship the weapons. We had to persuade Saad al-Hariri, Rafic Hariri’s son and a former prime minister, to go to put pressure on the Saudis, to tell them: “You abandoned the Sunnis of Iraq and you lost a country to Iran. If you do the same thing again you won’t only lose Syria, but Lebanon with it.”’ The idea was that the Saudis in turn would pressure the Americans to give the Turks the green light to allow proper weapons into the country.
Now suddenly, while on the ground the revolution was still in the hands of small bands of rebels and activists, a set of outside interests started conspiring to direct events in ways amenable to them. There were the Saudis, who never liked Bashar but were wary of more chaos in the Middle East. The Qataris, who were positioning themselves at the forefront of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, using their formidable TV networks to mobilise support and their vast wealth to fund illicit weapons shipments to the Libyans. And of course there were the French and the Americans.
What's happened since is that the supposedly unifying bodies set-up to to represent the myriad of different battalions and groups fighting Assad's forces in fact speak for next to no one on the ground. The first attempt, the Syrian National Council, was such a success it's been superseded by the second, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, (just trips off the tongue, doesn't it?) which isn't faring much better. Whether it's because the Americans know full well that the rebels are united in name only, or as the rebels themselves suspect, the Americans have got cold feet due to the continuing rise of the al-Nusra Front, a mixture of Islamists, Salafis and jihadi veterans (whether or not they are truly connected with the Islamic State of Iraq, let alone al-Qaida central is uncertain), the weapons the rebels thought they were promised still haven't materialised.
Not that it's clear whether anything less than the latest anti-aircraft and heavy ground weaponry would tip the balance in the rebels' favour. Jonathan Steele isn't always wholly reliable, yet his report from Homs suggests that an area which was last year at the very heart of the uprising is no longer in ferment, even if the resentment for the regime is barely masked. It's always dangerous to suggest that a stalemate's been reached, as the quick victory for the rebels in Libya showed, but despite all the claims that the collapse of the regime is imminent or weeks away, there's little sign of it, collapsing economy or not.
By the same token, it's equally apparent that despite the noises being made about Moaz al-Khatib (head of the NCSROF) offering to hold talks with the regime, if not Assad, there isn't the first chance of any deal being accepted by those who have lost so much already. As Abdul-Ahad's report makes clear, setting up a "battalion" is the easy part. Getting weapons if you're not a jihadi or prepared to record everything, including the deaths of your own friends, is far more difficult.