Syrian rebels have been sighted wielding anti-aircraft weapons in various combat sectors including the Damascus region in the last few days. Just as on April 6, debkafile was the first publication to disclose the arming of Syrian opposition forces with their first US weapons, BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles, our military sources now reveal that they have also acquired – and are using – Russian-made 9K310 Igla-1 aka SA-16 anti-aircraft rockets, which have an operational range of 5.2 km.
The SA-16 is not new, but it is effective and has been widely used for the past 30 years by various armies in several world conflicts.
According to our sources, the very US-Saudi suppliers, who brought the TOW missiles to certain Syrian rebel units through Jordan and Turkey, are now consigning the anti-tank weapons through the same route.
But although the rebels are now armed for the first time in the more than three-year conflict with a weapon for combating Bashar Assad’s air force, it has come too late to reverse the tide of war. As the Syrian air force drops barrel bombs and chlorine gas canisters on indiscriminate targets, the rebel side continues to be in retreat against the Syrian army’s pumped-up momentum.
The newly-armed rebels have gained not much more than the capacity to hold on to their present lines for a while longer. But ultimately, they cannot prevent the combined weight of the Syria army, Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite Iraqis, who continue to stream into Syria, breaking through those lines.
Had the Obama administration seriously meant the rebel side to win the war – even at this late date – it would have laid on a commensurate supply of 10,000 BGM-71 TOW and 5,000 SA-16 missiles. This hardware is available on international black markets. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies would have been ready to foot the bill and get the weapons smuggled through to their destination.
But Washington shows no inclination to give the Syrian opposition the upper hand against Assad’s radical military coalition. At best, only a few hundred missiles are being made available, enough to send the war into standoff with neither side able to finally rout the other.
Since the removal of Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the Saudi Intelligence Director who opposed this half-and-half US policy, Riyadh is going along with the Washington line on Syria.
This plays straight into Bashar Assad’s hands. After completing their takeover of the strategic Qalamoun mountain range on the Lebanese border, the Syrian army and Hizballah have finally achieved control of the Old City of Homs at the end of two years of vicious fighting.
Saturday, April 19, they launched themselves on rebel positions in eastern Damascus, starting with Jobar and Douma so as to push the rebels out of the center of the Syrian capital and loosen their grip on the main roads to Damascus International Airport.
To support this effort, Assad’s emissaries have entered into secret negotiation with three rebel militias holding the southern outskirts of Damascus in a bid to persuade them to pull back.
Having done his intelligence homework, the Syrian ruler sent agents to approach the leaders of the Syrian Liberation Army or Brigade, the Brigade of Beloved Mustafa and the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman Brigades for a deal.
They were offered immunity from attack if they turned coat and agreed to withdraw their fighting men as far south as Daraa and regroup in the area between that town and Quneitra on the Golan, i.e. along the Syrian-Israeli border.
By this gambit, Assad plans to keep his own army at a safe distance from the anti-tank and anti-aircraft rockets newly supplied by US and Saudi Arabia to the rebels in the south. At the same time, he intends to insert the three militias into the security pockets US- Jordanian- and Israel-backed rebels are carving out in southern Syria.
Two of those militias are made up of radical Islamist fighters who maintain ties with al Qaeda.
The Syrian ruler’s plan is to transplant the jihadist threat they pose to his forces in the Damascus area over to his southern borders where they will be ranged face to face with Israel and Jordan.