(This update has been added to Mr. Smyth’s piece, “Arming the Free Syrian Army,” which was posted Tuesday on our main site.)
For some time, official Turkish spokesmen have denied the FSA was receiving arms from or through Turkey. In late March, one FSA spokesman told the press, “Enough talk about humanitarian aid…If Turkey had given us any arms, the regime would have changed by now.” And on June 13, a Turkish official told the Independent, “Turkey is not providing arms to anybody, nor sending armed elements to any neighbouring country, including Syria.”
Based on these official statements, I concluded in my original piece, “While it benefits from having a safe-zone to operate from in Turkey, this zone does not provide the FSA with arms and equipment.”
However, the situation in Turkey is far more complicated than how I presented it.
One researcher, who spent time in southern Turkey and Syria with the FSA, told me privately that Turkish (and possible Gulf Arab) arms shipments were being received by the Syrian rebels. According to this source, arms consignments were frequently passed to the FSA through the Turkish province of Hatay. The equipment was then driven into Syria along with fighters.
While it’s possible Ankara is simply looking the other way as the FSA uses its ports and roads to transfer weapons, it’s more likely there is some direct involvement. May saw reports stating Turkey’s intelligence service was supplying Syrian rebels with AK-47 type weapons. This would point to a much less passive form of intervention by Ankara.
With the supply of AK-47 rifles it can be deduced that the FSA’s suppliers’ wish to maintain plausible deniability, maintain a cost-effective approach, all while simultaneously easing the difficulties faced by the FSA when acquiring parts, arms, or training.
However, the bigger development is that now a new military front against Assad is open. This area of operations is now seeing an upsurge in the availability of small-arms for FSA fighters and benefiting from being protected by the vastly superior (vis-à-vis Assad’s forces) Turkish military. Needless to say, the safe-zone is now morphing into a platform where low-intensity conflict can be waged against Assad.