GROWING COVERT SUPPORT?
Despite such longer-term worries, however, there are growing signs that the West and Arab states have decided that helping push the FSA towards victory may be the only option.
“I still don’t think that Western powers will intervene,” says Christopher Steinitz, Middle East analyst at the Centre for Naval Analysis outside Washington, part of the U.S. government-funded think tank CNA.
“No one will go it alone. Frankly, I think all parties at this point continue to see vague, covert support for the opposition as a winning strategy. There is no need for direct intervention.”
Although official confirmation is inevitably absent, there has been growing talk of foreign special forces – particularly British, but perhaps also US, Qatari, French and others – operating in Turkey’s border Hatay province.
On Tuesday, Israeli-based website Debkha suggested British special forces had actually entered Syrian territory proper, presumably alongside rebel forces. For now, most experts remain skeptical – but the prospect may well be growing.
Weapons deliveries to the rebels are also believed to be growing. Most needed, analysts say, would be anti-tank weaponry and perhaps also anti-aircraft missiles – despite worries that they could ultimately fall into the wrong hands.
“It’s never going to be officially acknowledged, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the CIA and special forces types haven’t been operating in Hatay for some time,” said Hartwell at IHS Jane’s. “I wouldn’t have thought they will be operating across the border. But they will be training, coordinating and poring over satellite photos. And after last week, I think the Turks will be a lot less bothered about keeping that secret.”
“Mission creep” could prove almost inevitable. If Syria’s rebels can emulate their Libyan counterparts and actually seize large areas of territory, they may similarly call for direct air support to hold back Assad’s forces.
Accidental or deliberate cross-border firing and growing talk of potential Syrian support for Kurdish PKK guerrillas could drive the Turks to launch at least occasional military strikes, regardless of the actions of Western and Gulf states.
By early next year, whoever occupies the White House – either a re-elected Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney – could find himself pushed ever closer to a larger military mission. But that, some warned, could bring with it much larger geopolitical risks.
At worst, as it backs governments in Bahrain and Yemen while opposing them in Syria and Iran, some believe Washington could find itself trapped on one side in a regional confrontation between Sunni and Shi’ ite.
Read More: Reuters