American Secretary of State John Kerry says he is exploring new ways of giving more support to Syrian rebels in the hope of bringing an end to the country’s bloody, two-year civil war.
However, it appears the forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are already getting help from an unlikely quarter – Croatia.
At least it is weapons sourced in Croatia that are increasingly turning up in the Syrian flashpoints of Damascus and Aleppo in defiance of an arms embargo observed up to now by the United States and the European Union. The identity of the actual suppliers is shrouded by a complex network of middlemen.
But the fact the armaments are finding their way into the hands of groups seen as secular nationalists, rather than the jihadists with terrorists associations, suggests Western Governments are involved in a carefully targeted transfer.
And it does seem the extra military support is having an effect. After months of stalemate in which they failed to build on advances made in the middle of 2012, the rebels are again beginning to make small tactical gains against Assad’s better-equipped forces.
Meanwhile Russia continues to openly supply Assad, its last ally in the Middle East, with all sorts of weaponry. Iran is also a major supporter to the Syrian Government, airlifting military equipment into the country on almost a daily basis. Persian Gulf Arab nations have been trying to counter this with their own supply lines to the rebels for more than a year but their efforts have been totally outstripped.
Croatia is an obvious source of surplus weaponry. During the civil wars that erupted from the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s arms poured into the country. While these armaments made regular appearances on the black market in the years immediately following the conflict, Croatia, now looking to burnish its credentials for entry into the European Union, stoutly denies that any transfers to Syria are taking place.
However, if European and US agencies are involved as intermediaries, the Croatians might not feel so restrained from doing some secret and lucrative trading.
This might be just what Kerry means when he says “new ways” of support for the Syrian opposition are under consideration.