Russian troops arrive in Syria, Arabs fear invasion

Friday, March 23, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

In public, Russia has joined the chorus of nations condemning the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on its people and rebel forces. But behind the scenes, Moscow remains one of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's closest allies, and the reported arrival of Russian troops in Syria this week may have been orchestrated to drive home that point.

ABC News first broke the report citing an unnamed UN Security Council official who was upset that Russia had made such a move at such a delicate time.

It later turned out that only a single unit of Russian counter-terrorism commandoes was in Syria, but the deployment remains symbolically significant, especially to Arab observers.

"This is the first time in modern history that Russia directly intervenes on the ground in the Middle East,” stated Abdul Rahman, manager of the Al-Arabiya news channel. “With its forces, Russia truly threatens security and stability in the region. This could be the start of a Russian invasion."

Tariq Homayed, editor of the London-based Arabic daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, added, "Something is happening in Syria, but no one knows how serious it is."

Meanwhile, there have been scattered reports that the Syrian rebels, and in particular the Free Syrian Army (FSA), are turning to Israel for assistance.

In a secretive interview with the Hebrew newspaper Israel Hayom earlier this month, a key figure in the FSA appealed to Israel to convince the rest of the West to help topple Assad.

"I believe Assad is still in power because Western powers are not convinced that Israel really wants to see a Syria without Assad. You are afraid of what will be the day after Assad falls," the man who identified himself as "Kamal" stated.

Kamal added that while most Syrians are not yet ready to normalize ties with Israel, helping to topple Assad is a gesture that "the Syrian people would not forget."

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