US Senator John McCain recently crossed into Syria to demonstrate how feasible that was, how easy it would be to supply arms to rebel forces, and how clearly one could distinguish between the “good rebels” of the Free Syrian Army led by Gen. Salim Idriss and the “bad rebels” affiliated with al-Qa’ida, such as Jabhat al-Nusra. Unfortunately, he was photographed with a spokesman for a rebel group which last year kidnapped Lebanese Shi’ites and is still holding most of them. The denials of McCain’s spokesman that he met the spokesman in question revolve around denying that any commander he met used either of the names “Muhammad Nur” or “Abu Ibrahim.” But the question is not whether he met a name, but whether he met a person, and people in the Syrian Civil War are known to be using noms de guerre. It is also unlikely that Sen. McCain, who I suspect speaks no Arabic, would remember the few dozen Arabic names he would have heard that day, if every commander he met was introduced by name. This underscores the degree to which Sen. McCain was shown what the rebels wanted him to see, and he heard only what the translators wanted him to hear. This does not change the importance of his visit, but reminds us that most things are not as they seem in Syria today.
In other news, CNN reports that Iraqi troops busted a terrorist cell synthesizing sarin, the chemical weapon used in Syria. Western governments and opposition forces have blamed the Assad regime for using sarin, while Carla del Ponte last month alleged that there was evidence for rebel use of the chemical weapon. While the US and Turkey poo-poo’ed the suggestion, this report suggests the real possibility of jihadi rebels in Syria getting sarin from al-Qa’ida-affiliated supporters in Iraq and using them, perhaps for their own effectiveness, perhaps to attempt to frame the Assad regime. At the time of del Ponte’s remarks, the United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said their report was not yet ready. According to the press release issued at that time, their report is due out today, and I at least am eager to get a glimpse at what it says regarding chemical weapons usage.