Both air and land transfers through Turkey and Jordan are being discussed as options, but a definite decision on how to provide the arms has not yet been reached. "The U.S. might help get the weapons to the final destination, to the end user," said the source, who felt strongly that the United States should make use of both the Turkish channel, where Qatar has been the most active in supplying weapons, and the Jordanian channel, where Saudi Arabia is the most active.
"If the U.S. wants to fix the issue [it] needs to take the lead in both north and south. There shouldn't be any relationship between local commander and foreign government," the source said, hinting at the potential for competing patrons to cause the opposition to fracture. "This is like warlordism creation."
But exporting violence is a two-way street. Already, Turkey has experienced blowback from its meddling in the war in Syria. On Feb. 1, the U.S. embassy in Ankara was attacked by a suicide bomber from a far-left group opposed to the current Western intervention in Syria. Then on May 11, a double car bombing killed more than 50 people in the border town of Reyhanli, which serves as a logistics hub for the Syrian opposition. The majority of those killed were said to be Turkish citizens.
Many blamed the Turkish government for the attacks. Indeed, the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) Syria policy has been one of the driving forces behind the nationwide anti-government protests that rocked the country over the past three weeks. Heavy-handed police tactics seem to have dispersed the protests for the moment, but the underlying resentment remains. While most Turkish protesters stopped short of praising Assad, few agreed with their government's attempts to oust him. By and large, they don't believe Turkey stands to gain from entering the conflict. Few perceive Assad as a threat and many remain fearful of the religious fanaticism of some rebel contingents.
As Issa, a Syrian man who joined the Turkish protesters in Istanbul, explained: "Assad is secular, it does not matter [to the protesters] if he kills people if he is secular. And [they] are leftist, also Assad is leftist, and they are left like him."
If the United States does begin providing substantial arms to the Syrian rebels -- and perhaps allows Gulf countries to provide heavier weaponry -- the war could spread into Turkey, both as the regime retaliates and as al Qaeda-linked forces establish a greater foothold on the country. The flow of arms is also likely to anger segments of the Turkish public that perceive Ankara's Syria policy as one of aggression, rather than self-defense.
Already, extremist elements have established a presence inside Turkey, as evidenced by the May 29 arrest of 12 alleged members of Jabhat al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliated brigade, across Turkey. "Once these people come in it's very difficult for you to get rid of them," said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based researcher with the Silk Road Studies Program at John Hopkins University.
Fearing additional attacks, Turkey has transferred control of the border from the gendarmerie to the military over the last year, and sought to clamp down on rebel groups going back and forth. Since then, Turkish troops have reportedly come under fire from groups on the other side of the border.
"There's a sense that Turkey was initially supportive, but under pressure from the U.S., which is very alarmed about al-Nusra, [it] is beginning to clamp down on them," Jenkins said. Among jihadists, "there's been a shift in perceptions about Turkey."
In theory, any U.S. arms that flow into Syria would go to fighters that oppose al-Qaeda linked groups. But given the chaos of war it is virtually impossible to be certain where the arms will end up. With extremists playing such a large role in Syria, more blowback can only be expected for Turkey -- and from multiple directions.