[Guest post by rafiq Sam Hamad]

In “How the Syrian Revolution Went Wrong,” Richard Seymour suggests that the weapons the Syrian rebels are receiving ‘something other than a few Saudi pea shooters’ is ‘already outdated.’

This is false.

If we are to stick to what has been reported and what has been documented (which is obviously all we can really do), then we can safely say that the first shipment of U.S. weapons was received by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) just under two weeks ago and that the rebels have thus far relied on inconsistent shipments of light weaponry acquired for them by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.



For example, we know for sure that the rebels received Saudi-purchased arms from Croatia in December 2012. Far from them consisting mainly of ‘pea shooters’, these heavier weapons actually led to a series of tactical gains for the FSA in the same month and stretching into early 2013. In fact, wherever the rebel militias have been properly armed, we have seen the most consistent and meaningful gains against regime forces.

In this sense, this notion of the arming rebels being ‘already outdated’ represents a double misrepresentation of the arms situation:

1) It completely misrepresents just how inconsistent the arms shipments has been to the FSA. Once again, they have mainly relied on light weaponry that they have acquired from defecting regime soldiers or that they stole during raids on government bases. This forms the bulk of the FSA’s arsenal – not foreign weaponry. The notion that the Saudi Arabia or any other country has ‘flooded’ the rebellion with weapons simply doesn’t match up with the reality on the ground.

2) It completely misrepresents and misunderstands just how much the quality of the arms matters here. The FSA needs anti-aircraft weapons – the regime’s air force has been able to stop the rebels from advancing in the areas  key to the regime’s survival, while it has also managed to bombard and terrorise the areas held by the rebels, which is the number one cause of civilian deaths (along with artillery) and the primary factory in the refugee and displacement crisis (2 million have fled the country, 4–7 million have been internally displaced). This is a form of ethnic cleansing – it has served to separate the population in many rebel-held and rebel-supporting areas from the armed element of the revolution. Furthermore, while the rebels have received some heavy weaponry (including some MANPADs), the regime has been able to capitalize on the rebels’ general lack of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry as well as their limited capability to strike regime targets from afar.


It simply doesn’t logically follow that the first confirmed shipment of U.S. weapons reaching the FSA two weeks ago could possibly constitute some sort of ‘tried but failed’ tactic of arming the rebels. Not only has the flow of arms been inconsistent, but, as welcome as such weapons are to the rebels who receive them, the quality of such arms has also been generally inadequate from all sources.

Seymour misunderstands the character of the kind of war that is being waged by both the regime and the rebels. In the wake of the Ghouta massacre, many of those who questioned whether or not the regime was responsible seemingly could not understand why the regime would choose to do it when it was ‘winning’ the war. However, even if we discard the fact that the areas targeted by the regime in Ghouta were sites of some of the most entrenched rebel resistance in Damascus, the reality is that Assad is by no means ‘winning’ the war. The vast areas of the north that the rebels gained early on in the conflict are not going to be regained by the regime. The regime knows this, mostly because the actuality of making a serious attempt to regain these territories would entail the mobilisation of the entire Syrian Arab Army, which would mean that Assad would have to rely on the non-professional Sunni conscripts, and thus greatly increase the chances of defections en masse that he has so far managed to avoid.

This is why Assad relies on a relatively small core of ultra-loyal military units, sectarian shabiha, and, most tellingly in recent times, Hezbollah. By exploiting sectarianism, stirring up regional fears of a Shiite bloodbath in the event of a rebel victory, and with the massive support the regime gets from Russia and Iran, Assad has managed to simply hang on to those areas that are key to his survival, which is why there appears to have been an element of panic involved in the use of chemical weapons in East Ghouta, which is right on the doorstep of the regime’s nerve center.

The regime knows that it will never again control all of Syria, so, in a sense, and despite the contradictions posed by the jihadists, the revolution has already been successful insofar as it is now highly improbable that the regime could ever hope to ‘kill’ it. The regime is weak – it relies on massive foreign support, not just in terms of military hardware, but in financial terms too, with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid per month from Iran keeping its head above the water. One way or another, the regime will crumble.

I think Brown Moses put it rather well when asked by a reporter who he thought was winning the war: “the rebels”, he replied, “but very slowly.”