Days after al-Qaeda offered support to the Syrian anti-government protesters and prodded them on by saying Onward, Lions of Syria, the United States has said it suspects the Sunni terror network is seriously seeking a role in the Syrian conflict and that it is a fresh concern for Washington.
It does raise concerns for us that al-Qaeda is trying to assert a presence there ... The situation there has become that much more serious as a result of that, the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a briefing at the Pentagon.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's exhortation for the terror wing's ranks and file was followed by daring bombings in Damascus and Aleppo, and the U.S. and its allies are seeing the presence of al-Qaeda's Iraqi affiliates behind the bombings.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported Friday that an unnamed U.S. official said al-Qaeda was sending men, money and weapons to the fighters trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian conflict is at an inflection point -- there is no unanimity among world powers on how to get Assad stop unleashing mindless violence on citizens, the talk of an international military offensive to liberate the country, similar to the Libya model, is petering out and Damascus is raising the specter of a regional conflict if Western forces launch an attack.
It is still debatable if it was the lack of Western engagement so far in Syria that offered a crack in the door for the ultra extremist group. However, the fact that they have put their foot forward proves that the next step ahead for the U.S. and its allies is clearly a dicey one.
There is a fear that the al-Qaeda operatives will get hold of the arms and ammunition, including chemical weapons, stockpiled by Syria in the event of a fall of regime. This will have disastrous consequences as an otherwise weakened terror outfit will have a gained a foothold in one of the major flashpoints in the world.
Will this scenario force the U.S. to act swifter on Syria and put together another NATO war in the region? However, unlike in the case of Libya, the position of China and Russia is vastly different in this case.
Russia, which berthed its flotilla at the Syrian port of Tartus before the Security Council vote, had sternly warned that the adoption of a resolution calling for Assad to step down was the path to civil war.
China too toed the Russian line this time, drifting drastically away from the position it adopted when a similar debate took place in the Council last year, over Libya.
Or, in an interesting turn of events, will the entry of al-Qaeda comically twist the balance as they will be naturally pitted against the Hezbollah, the feared Shia militia actively supported and patronized by Iran?
Assad's promise of a regional conflict could come true then!
At the end of January, before the UN Security Council voted on the binding resolution calling for the end of violence, Assad had reportedly threatened that he would start regional wars if he were to be forced out.
In August, four months into the pro-democracy protests, Assad warned that if any international coalition attacked Syria, it would destroy Tel Aviv and set the entire Middle East on fire.
A close Assad aide, businessman Rami Makhlouf, had sounded the same threat earlier, holding Israel hostage. If there is no stability in Syria, there will be none in Israel. No one can be sure what will happen after that. God help us if anything befalls this regime.
There were reports that the Lebanese Hezbollah, which is known to have operated as the mercenaries of Iranian and Syrian leaders, has gone into high level of military preparedness ever since the crisis turned out to be more than a plateful for Assad to manage.
On Thursday, the United National General Assembly passed a resolution that asks Syrian authorities to take decisive steps to end the violence and condemning the human rights violations in the country.
The Arab-backed resolution was passed in the de facto world parliament with a thumping majority (137 countries for it, 12 against and 17 abstentions), but big powers China and Russia, which vetoed a similar move in the Security Council, stuck to their stance and voted against.
The non-binding resolution also repeats the Arab League call for Assad to step down. Both China and Russia opposed the General Assembly resolution, with Moscow saying that the text was unbalanced.
It directs all the demands at the government, and says nothing about the opposition, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.
The Syrian envoy said the resolution would be an endorsement for the extremists and terrorists whom Damascus is fighting. More pointedly the envoy, Bashar Jaafari, said such a move by the U.N. would only lead to a tightening of the crisis, and more violence in the region as a whole.