Saudi Arabia has agreed to supply the Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, including shoulder-fired missiles that are capable of shooting down jets.
The sophisticated weaponry includes “Chinese man-portable air defense systems, or Manpads, and antitank guided missiles from Russia,” the newspaper reported, citing an Arab diplomat and opposition leaders.
If true, most of the weapons would flow to the south of Syria, where the opposition fighters are more organized. The weapons were already waiting in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey, the report added.
The rebels said the equipment, if supplied in large quantities, could turn the tide of fighting in their favor ahead of their big push on Damascus — particularly because they could help weaken the Syrian army’s greatest assets on the battlefield: air superiority and heavy armor.
Members of the Syrian opposition confirmed the report, but Saudi Arabia did not comment.
The White House has long been opposed to arming the Syrian rebels out of fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of extremists, including al-Qaeda-linked groups, yet it too has increased its new financial aid to the opposition, used to pay opposition fighters’ salaries.
Riyadh’s decision was seen as a result of its increasing frustration with the stalemated Syria peace talks in Geneva.
The decision comes on the heels of the futile first round of the Geneva II talks, which was said to have led the US and the wealthy Gulf states to change their tone about backing a military push against Syrian President Bashar Assad so that a political conclusion to the three-year-old conflict could be reached.