Saudi Arabia is quietly arming the Syrian Opposition in the hopes of turning the tides in the country’s bloody two-year conflict.
The Middle Eastern nation has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia that will help arm the Syrian rebels, according to American and Western officials.
Regional and Western nations have held off arming the rebel groups for almost two years, partially over fears that the weapons would end up in the hands of terrorists.
The New York Times reports that the arms transfers started in December and were shuttled through Jordan. They have been helping the rebels turn the tide in their favor through small tactical gains.
The arms shipments also signal a change in the support the rebels are receiving from other nations. While the shipments have been financed by Saudi Arabia, there is no word on whether other governments may have helped as well.
Iran is currently on the other side of the war, arming the Syrian government. The shipments from Tehran have worried Sunni Arab states, who do not want to see Tehran come out ahead in the Syrian Conflict.
The Australian notes that the arms shipments to Syrian rebels are leftover from a surplus of weapons made during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. A spokesman for the Croation ministry, however, stated that the Balkan country has not sold weapons to Saudi Arabia or the Syrian rebels since the Arab Spring began two years ago.
The Syrian conflict began as peaceful protests in March of 2011. But the protest spiraled out of control when the government reacted with violence. Since then, some rights groups have claimed that more than 70,000 people have lost their lives. The rebels now control large parts of the country, including parts of Aleppo and Damascus.
The Syrian National Coalition is the widely accepted government in exile, which would likely take over if Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad loses the war. They have recently spoken out about their frustration with a lack of support from other nations for their conflict.
They initially decided to boycott an upcoming international conference on the situation in Rome, though they announced on Monday they would attend.
There is no word on whether more countries will join Saudi Arabia in arming the Syrian rebels.