The Cable

Islamists Auction Off Cars to Buy Heat Seeking Missiles for Syrian Rebels

A group of hard-line Islamists in Kuwait raised enough cash to arm 12,000 Syrian rebels this week, according to statements by the group's leaders. The next step: flood the country with guided missiles, heat-seeking missiles and tandem warheads.

The United States is currently considering ways to provide small arms to moderate elements of the Syrian opposition. Washington officials swear they can keep those weapons from falling into extremists' hands. Perhaps that's so. But those CIA-led efforts may be eclipsed by a parallel push to give more powerful weapons -- capable of taking down commercial aircraft -- to the opposition. And these arms runners are far less concerned about the weapons winding up with the rebels' al qaeda-aligned Islamist wing.

This week, the Great Kuwait Campaign, a private organization of Kuwaiti clerics and politicians, announced a new phase of its fundraising campaign after successfully raising several millions of dollars from auctioning off cars, rounding up gold jewelry and soliciting donations.

The fundraising announcement came from the campaign's official Twitter account on Monday. The specifics about weaponry came from one of the campaign's organizers, Dr. Shafi Al-Ajmi, a hardline Salafi cleric who said the group already purchased anti-aircraft missiles, grenades and RPGs, and was planning to acquire heat-seeking and guided missiles.

In a similar statement on Tuesday, Dr. Waleed Al-Tabtabai, a former Kuwaiti MP and campaign organizer said that rebels urgently need heat-seeking and anti-aircraft missiles as well as anti-tank and armor-piercing weapons. (The two clerics' translated statements were flagged by the Middle East Media Research Institute, in a note to The Cable.)

Like many of the Syrian rebels, the campaign's members are conservative Sunni Muslims who support the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite. In the past week, the clerics have auctioned off GMC and Mercedes sedans and characterized successes in religious and sectarian terms*.


The Kuwaiti government, which officially supports the overthrow of Assad, told Reuters on Wednesday that unofficial fundraising requires a special permit to ensure the money "is going to the right side or to the right party." But some analysts doubt if Kuwait shares America's concern about sophisticated weapons getting in the hands of extremists.

"Who are these weapons going to? We don't know," Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, tells The Cable. "Most of the heavy hitting Islamists, who are the best trained and most capable, have nothing to offer America and are intensely anti-Western."

Falah al-Sawagh, a campaign member and former opposition member of Kuqait's parliament, did little to allay these concerns an interview yesterday. "Our only rule is to collect money and to deliver this money to our brothers which are helping the Syrian people," he told Reuters.  "The world has abandoned the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution so it is normal that people start to give money to people who are fighting." 

*All tweets translated using Google Chrome


The Cable

Two More Top Officials Leaving State Dept. Economics Team

More key implementers of Hillary Clinton's "economic statecraft" agenda are headed for the exits with no immediate replacements in sight, The Cable has learned.

For laymen, this crew of business-oriented officials was best recognized for transforming the State Department into a relentless booster of U.S. businesses abroad -- an effort that partially stepped on the toes of the Department of Commerce and most definitely helped explain Clinton's eye-popping odometer at State (almost a million miles traveled during her tenure.)

At the top the totem pole of is Robert Hormats (pictured right), the Under Secretary of Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. His last day is July 31. Assistant Secretary of Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez is also leaving in the near future, according to two sources, which follows The Cable's report that Chief Economist Heidi Crebo-Rediker will be leaving her position by the end of July.

Hormats led the first senior economic delegation to Myanmar last year, encouraging the recovering autocracy to improve its business environment on issues including rule of law, labor rights and transparency. He also accompanied Clinton on her trips to India, China, South Africa, Mexico and South East Asia trying to win contracts for companies including Caterpillar, Boeing, and General Electric. (Clinton's penchant for squeezing in short trips to promote U.S. businesses between major global summits was somewhat legendary.)

More broadly, State's econ team under Clinton restructured the way diplomats work to zealously incentivize the promotion of U.S. business interests. At U.S. embassies around the world, for example, the once lowly duty of acting as a liaison to business interests for State became grounds for a promotion for embassy economic officers.

"You cannot have a strong foreign policy unless you have a strong economy," Hormats said, summing up the thrust of Clinton's initiative.

He remained hopeful but uncertain if Clinton's signature reform would continue under Secretary of State John Kerry given the lack of an immediate successor. "Not knowing that presents a concern," he said. "I want to make sure that the person who has this job feels as strongly as I do about these issues because I've put my heart and soul into it."

Hormats, former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, said he wasn't sure of his next move, but said he's entertaining offers in "consulting or finance." Multiple efforts to reach Fernandez, formerly an M&A corporate lawyer at Latham & Watkins, were not successful. Crebo-Rediker, formerly an investment banker and aide for then-Sen John Kerry on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wouldn't speculate on her next job.