With the help of the U.S. and Persian Gulf nations, Syrian rebels seeking the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad have received an influx of better weapons in recent weeks, say Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly at The Washington Post. The weapons, which include anti-tank artillery, are being provided by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Sunni states in the region that would love to see the ouster of Assad, who has strong ties to the Shiite regime in Iran. But the U.S. is reportedly playing a significant role in the arrangement, too, broadening its contacts with the rebels to better coordinate the weapons transfers. "In other words, America is the go-between, the crucial link ensuring that the most useful weaponry goes through to where the rebels need it most," says Anshel Pfeffer at Israel's Haaretz. Here, five takeaways from America's deepening involvement in Syria:
1. A political solution seems increasingly unlikely
While the U.S. is officially a supporter of a floundering U.N. peace plan, American "officials now consider an expanding military confrontation to be inevitable," say DeYoung and Sly. Assad's forces continue to pound rebel strongholds, and even U.N. peacekeepers aren't safe from violence. For its part, the U.S. insists that its official policy has not changed, and that it still does not directly provide the rebels with any lethal material.
2. The weapons are really helping the rebels
The flood of new supplies has "reversed months of setbacks for the rebels that forced them to withdraw from" their strongholds, say DeYoung and Sly. And opposition forces are reporting that large shipments of artillery have made their way into rebel hands.
3. The U.S. wants to unite Assad's enemies...
Since the uprising began 14 months ago, the U.S. has been discouraged from involvement by "the opposition's failure to agree on a unified political leadership or game plan," say DeYoung and Sly. But that could be changing: U.S. officials are trying to "convene a meeting of a diverse group of Syrians" both inside and outside the country, "with the goal of creating a more cohesive opposition that can inspire more confidence from the international community," says Elise Labott at CNN.
4. ...And open a second front against Assad
Last week, the State Department met with Kurdish leaders from the relatively peaceful region of eastern Syria, and "the possibility was raised of opening another front against Assad's forces to force him to divert resources," says Elise Labott at CNN.
5. The U.S. is sending a strong message to Iran
The U.S.'s shift in Syria is clearly meant as a warning to Iran, which is to meet with the U.S. and other U.N. Security Council members this week over its suspected nuclear weapons program, says Pfeffer. Iran has "the most to lose if and when the Assad regime goes down, taking with it a critical link" in its regional array of Shiite allies. The U.S. could be using Syria to show Iran that the "noose is beginning to tighten," and that Iran would be better off cooperating with the West. Or more deviously, the U.S. could be "willing to forego even this limited assistance to the Syrian opposition, in return for some" concessions from Iran.