As the US wants to arm 'nice Syrian rebels' we must remind ourselves that weapons are not just guns. They are about money

Hardware will end up in the hands of al-Qa’ida, says Robert Fisk

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Tosh! That’s the only sane reaction to the White House’s announcement that America the Brave is to arm the Syrian rebels.

The US doesn’t plan to send weapons to the horrid rebels, mark you – not to the al-Qa’ida-inspired al-Nusra Front whose chaps film themselves eating Alawites for YouTube videos, barbecue the heads of captured Syrian troops and murder 14-year-old schoolboys for blasphemy. Only to the nice rebels, the Free Syrian Army deserters who are battling the forces of Assad darkness in the interests of freedom, liberty, women’s rights and democracy.

Anyone who believes this knows nothing about war, killing, barbarity and, especially, greed. Because weapons are not just guns. They are currency. They are money. They are saleable commodities the moment you send them across any border. Their value in US dollars, pounds sterling, Syrian pounds or Qatari dinars is infinitely more important than their use in battle.

The Western powers are dangerously close to flooding Syria with weapons and ammunition which will officially go to the nice rebels – but will quickly pass to the horrid rebels, who will sell some of them to al-Qa’ida, Iraqi insurgents, Syrian government troops, Malian militiamen, Taliban fighters and Pakistani hitmen. Guns are about money.

It works like this. The nice rebels could be given anti-aircaft missiles (shoulder-fired variety preferred) to use against Assad’s helicopters and Migs. Thank you – “shukran” – the nice rebels will say. But once over the border, the horrid rebel Nusra chaps will make an offer the nice rebels can’t refuse: either many thousands of dollars or a threat to seize the munitions (head-chopping optional), or a mixture of both. For a hefty sum, the horrid rebels will then split the proceeds with their chaps in Iraq. Ask the Syrian government soldiers – as I have – and they’ll tell you that they too would prefer the weapons to go to the nice rebels, who always run away – because the horrid rebels of the Nusra always fight to the last man.

In the Lebanese civil war, not a single gun I ever saw was actually donated to the men who carried them. The Phalangists used weapons they received from the Israelis, who got them from the Americans (or with American money, the same thing). The Palestinians used guns from Syria, which had in turn imported them from the Soviet Union. Hezbollah even have a few self-loading rifles which appear to have come long ago from the Lebanese Army, which received them as surplus from the British Ministry of Defence after our chaps left Northern Ireland following the Good Friday Agreement.

Back in the Eighties, the US handed out missiles and other goodies to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the super-freedom fighters trying to kill lots of Russians in Afghanistan. But Mr Hekmatyar then became a super-terrorist and decided to kill lots of post-2001 American occupiers of his country – using the same weapons donated to him by those grand arms dealers Messrs Carter and Reagan Inc.

In 1991, the Israelis took delivery of AGM-114C missiles from the Americans – manufactured for the US Marine Corps, who were supposed to fire them at Iraqi soldiers – and used one of them to blow up an ambulance full of Lebanese women and children in 1996.

History lesson. The weapons used by both sides in the 1922-3 Irish civil war – and you can see them in museums – included Lee-Enfield .303  rifles, each bearing the imprint of a British crown on the butt. They had been made for the Brits to use against Germans in the First World War. Whoops...

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