Ian Gallagher — Daily Mail July 1, 2013
Flying low over the Jordanian desert, F-16 fighter jets flatten targets in the sand while tanks unleash their deadly firepower and paratroopers dot the late afternoon sky.
These were the scenes a fortnight ago in Operation Eager Lion, the United States-led exercise involving 8,000 service personnel that the military insists was only routine.
In Jordan, though, the war games now feel like a precursor to the invasion of neighbouring Syria. And not just because live rounds were fired.
Concerns were raised further last week with news that the CIA and US Special Forces are training Syrian rebels at a secret base in the remote south-west of the country.
The Free Syrian Army fighters are mainly from Daraa, where the uprising began in March 2011.
It is not known how many of the rebels have passed through the US base, but it is understood 20 to 45 at a time have been attending two-week courses since December – and are being trained with Russian-designed 14.5mm anti-tank rifles and 23mm anti-aircraft weapons.
Operation Eager Lion may have ended two weeks ago but 900 combat-ready American servicemen remain behind, with many now based close to the strategically important northern border.
Disquiet over what may happen next is felt all over this desert kingdom – a key ally of Britain and America and one that has played a pivotal role in the power struggle in the Middle East.
Few Jordanians doubt that the West is now more determined than ever to meet the rebels’ demand for heavy arms.
But while they share the same desire to rid Syria of President Bashar Assad, the majority – motivated by a strong sense of self-preservation – view the unfolding scenario as potentially disastrous.
And not just because of the fear that the weapons will find their way into the hands of extremist elements among the rebels, including Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra.
Or that Assad’s friends in Russia and Iran will respond in kind.