In addition to threatening to invade Syria and oust Bashar al-Assad Saudi Arabia says it wants to arm jihadists in the country with anti-aircraft missiles to take out Russian jets.
“We believe that introducing surface-to-air missiles in Syria is going to change the balance of power on the ground,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said during an interview with Der Spiegel.
“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. This has to be studied very carefully, however, because you don’t want such weapons to fall into the wrong hands,” al-Jubeir said.
Even The New York Times admits there are few if any moderates fighting in Syria and the Gulf Emirate, Turkish and CIA organized, trained and armed fighters are virtually all Sunni Salafists and jihadists. “Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of,” Ben Hubbard wrote for the newspaper on April 27, 2013.
“The moderates, often underfunded, fragmented and chaotic, appear no match for Islamist units, which include fighters from organizations designated ‘terrorist’ by the United States,” Reuters reported in June, 2013.
Despite this reality Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron continue to insist there are moderates fighting against al-Assad. In December, Cameron made the ludicrous claim there are 70,000 “moderates” in the country.
“Having Photoshopped a fake poppy on to his lapel to honor Britain’s war dead, why shouldn’t [Cameron] get away with Photoshopping 70,000 fake ‘moderates’ on to a map of Syria?” asked journalist Robert Fisk.
The jihadists in Syria may already have anti-aircraft missiles. In April 2014 the Obama administration considered sending manpads—man-portable air defense systems—to jihadi groups. Prior to this the United States transferred its sophisticated BGM-71 TOW anti-tank weapon to al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda and Islamic State aligned groups.
The threat made by Adel al-Jubeir is nothing new. In February, 2014 and October, 2015 the Saudis said they would provide anti-aircraft weapons to the Islamists in Syria. In the latter case, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were said to be “spending huge sums to open their path into the Ukrainian army’s missile depots to transfer the surface-to-air SAM-8 and SAM-9 missile systems to Northern Syria to strengthen the terrorist groups,” the Iranian news agency Fars reported, citing the Arabic-language Lebanese al-Akhbar.
Saudi Effort Doomed to Failure
Despite the reports Russia has conducted a large number of airstrikes against jihadists. “From Feb. 10 to 16, aircraft of the Russian aviation group in the Syrian Arab Republic have performed 444 combat sorties engaging 1,593 terrorist objects in the provinces of Deir Ez Zor, Daraa, Homs, Hama, Latakia and Aleppo,” the Russian defense ministry said.
As noted by the analytic group South Front any effort to turn back the Syrian government offensive against the jihadists is doomed to failure. “If [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan decided to launch a ground operation in Syria in September or October of 2015, when the situation presented far more tempting opportunities, Turkish forces stood a far better chance of influencing the outcome of the war in Syria than they do right now.”
The Hmeimim airbase outside of Latakia now hosts over 50 aircraft, including Su-27SM, Su-30SM, and Su-35S fighters. It is also protected by a multi-layered air defense system which includes the S-400 high altitude, long-range missile system, Buk-M2 medium range weapons, and Pantsir-S short-range gun/missile vehicles which are capable of shooting down not only aircraft but also cruise missiles and guided bombs. Hostile aircraft would also face a barrage of electronic countermeasures that would significantly degrade their ability to target Hmeimim, according to South Front.
Adel al-Jubeir’s claim that sending anti-aircraft missiles to the jihadists will “change the balance of power on the ground” is not realistic. The Syrian Army backed by the Russians has regained hundreds of miles of territory and will thwart the Saudi, CIA and Turkish effort to topple Bashar al-Assad within months, if not weeks.