‘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.
‘The Americans gave their blessing,’ Abu Abdullah said, ‘and all the players converged and formed an operations room. It had the Qataris, the Saudis, the Turks and Hariri.’ In their infinite wisdom the players decided to entrust the running of the room – known as the Armament Room or the Istanbul Room after the city where it was based – to a Lebanese politician called Okab Sakr, a member of Hariri’s party who was widely seen as divisive and autocratic. The plan was to form military councils to be led and dominated by defectors from the Syrian army – this in order to appease the Americans, who were getting worried about the rising influence of the Islamists. All the fighting groups, it was assumed, would eventually agree to answer to the military councils because they were the main source of weapons.
At first, the plan seemed to be working […] A few weeks later, though, the plan started to collapse. In Deir al-Zour, an army defector accused the military council of being dominated by a single tribe and village. He set up a rival council. In Idlib and Homs the council was seen as too weak as rival battalions grew in influence. The Istanbul Room was accused of favouritism. By mid-July it was only in Aleppo that the council seemed to be working and the rebels pushed towards the city […]
‘Why are the Americans doing this to us? They told us they wouldn’t send us weapons until we united. So we united in Doha. Now what’s their excuse? They say it’s because of the jihadis but it’s the jihadis who are gaining ground. Abu Abdullah is $400,000 in debt and no one is sending him money anymore. It’s all going to the jihadis. They have just bought a former military camp from a battalion that was fighting the government. They went to them, gave them I don’t know how many millions and bought the camp. Maybe we should all become jihadis. Maybe then we’ll get money and support.’
Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria […] The weapons began reaching rebels in December via shipments shuttled through Jordan, officials said, and have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad […] officials said the decision to send in more weapons is aimed at another fear in the West about the role of jihadist groups in the opposition […]
Officials familiar with the transfers said the arms were part of an undeclared surplus in Croatia remaining from the 1990s Balkan wars. One Western official said the shipments included “thousands of rifles and hundreds of machine guns” and an unknown quantity of ammunition […] An official in Washington said the possibility of the transfers from the Balkans was broached last summer, when a senior Croatian official visited Washington and suggested to American officials that Croatia had many weapons available should anyone be interested in moving them to Syria’s rebels. […] Jutarnji list, a Croatian daily newspaper, reported Saturday that in recent months there had been an unusually high number of sightings of Jordanian cargo planes at Pleso Airport in Zagreb […] four sightings at Pleso Airport of Ilyushin 76 aircraft owned by Jordan International Air Cargo. It said such aircraft had been seen on Dec. 14 and 23, Jan. 6 and Feb. 18 […]
One Western official familiar with the transfers said that participants are hesitant to discuss the transfers because Saudi Arabia, which the official said has financed the purchases, has insisted on secrecy.