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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

How Will Russia Respond to Saudi Anti-Aircraft Missiles in Syria?


With the Syrian Army advancing across the front, Saudi Arabia has announced its willingness to escalate the conflict by supplying portable surface-to-air missiles to terrorists fighting against Syrian forces and, presumably, the Russian forces assisting them. But is it a genuine threat, or just part of Riyadh’s campaign of information warfare?

On Friday, in an interview for Germany’s Spiegel Magazine, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced that Riyadh is prepared to send portable surface-to-air missile systems to Syria to help ‘moderate rebels’ turn the tide against government forces, which have been making significant breakthroughs in fighting across the country in recent weeks.
“We believe that introducing surface-to-air missiles in Syria is going to change the balance of power on the ground, al-Jubeir explained. “It will allow the moderate opposition to be able to neutralize the helicopters and aircraft that are dropping chemicals and have been carpet-bombing them, just like surface-to-air missiles in Afghanistan were able to change the balance of power there.”

Exactly what ‘moderate opposition’ Mr. al-Jubeir is talking about remains unclear, given that even much of the Western media has admitted that Riyadh, alarmingly, is funding, arming and otherwise supporting Islamist militants.

For the record, the militants that Saudi Arabia supports include al-Fatah, an Idlib-based coalition of Islamist groups including al-Nusra Front, Ahrar ash-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa, all three of which are affiliated with al-Qaeda. Elsewhere across the country, Riyadh has provided assistance to other al-Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham-affiliated groups, and to the Free Syrian Army, an organization which has been whittled down into a small group that actively cooperates with Islamist militants, and which the Pentagon itself has previously estimated consists of “more than 50%…extreme Islamist groups.”

Perhaps it is for this reason that another German outlet, Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, called al-Jubeir’s remarks about supporting the “moderate opposition” a euphemism.
Having clarified who would be receiving the Saudi supplied anti-aircraft weapons (i.e. terrorists, most of them recognized as such by the State Department), the question which follows is: will they be sent at all? The fact is that Riyadh makes threats to escalate the conflict in Syria on a consistent basis, most recently with its saber-rattling claims about making preparations to invade the country, an idea which many security analysts have brushed off.

Even the threat to send anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria is not an original idea, with Riyadh making the same threat at least twice before, in February 2014, and October 2015.
Moreover, even if the latest once-a-year attempt to intimidate Damascus is not just a bluff this time, the situation on the ground in Syria makes it unclear just how the rebels are going to get the weapons, given that the Syrian Army, supported by Kurdish forces in the north, is rapidly moving to restore control over both the north and south of the country, liberating major population centers and moving to close off the once-porous borders with Turkey and Jordan, through which terrorist fighters, funds, and weapons once freely flowed.


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