The latest to get in on the action of supplying arms to Syrian rebels? Omar al-Bashir: President of Sudan, former supporter of Libyan rebels and the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, a man convicted by the International Criminal Court on counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Sudan’s government has sold antiaircraft missiles and small arms cartridges to the rebels. The Times calls Sudan an “unlikely source” for rebel support: they are under international arms embargoes, and are closely tied to Assad-supporting Iran. While Sudanese officials deny the shipments, Sudan has a history of surreptitiously supporting rebel groups: “It has provided weapons to Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army; rebels in Libya; and the janjaweed, the pro-government militias that are accused of a campaign of atrocities in Darfur.”
Bashir has previously claimed that Syria’s civil war is a result of “foreign meddling,” according to the Sudan Tribune: in October 2011 he said “Syria is exposed to a foreign conspiracy because of its firm position on Arab issues and any weakening of Syria is a free service to enemies of the Arab nation.”
Bashir’s support of Syrian rebels may seem puzzling considering his Iran alliance, but the Times notes he has regularly supported Sunni Islamist movements. The Syrian conflict has become a largely sectarian conflict, waged between Sunni rebels and the Alawite government. Others suggest his motivations are primarily monetary – the Times reports that Qatar will pay handsomely for weapons.
Whatever Bashir’s motivation, this development further demonstrates the imprudence of U.S. involvement in Syria’s rebel cause. If the U.S. helps arm the opposition, it will further a chaotic and dangerous sectarian conflict. As Times writers C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt put it:
“Sudan’s involvement adds yet another complication to a civil war that has long defied a diplomatic resolution. The battle has evolved into a proxy fight for regional influence between global powers, regional players and religious sects.”
What could motivate the U.S. to enter this chaotic skirmish? The Huffington Post, reporting on Sudan/Iran ties, noted that Syria’s conflict threatens to break-up the Middle East’s “axis of resistance.” This axis constitutes an anti-West, anti-Israel alliance between Shiite leaders in Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Crippling Syria’s Shiite government would damage their strategic cooperation.
However, this unsettling of Middle Eastern powers could also have long-term detrimental effects on minorities in Syria (as discussed in a previously), including Christians.
Obama should consider the implications of supporting a group also backed by one of the world’s most notorious human-rights violators. As Reason blogger Matthew Feeney noted,
“If the Obama administration goes ahead with plans to arms rebels in Syria the American weapons will be comparatively late arrivals to a conflict that involves Hezbollah and Al Qaeda -linked groups as well as pro-Assad and Kurdish militias fighting amid a diplomatic nightmare that includes Iran, Russia, and European nations such as France and the U.K. What could possibly go wrong?”