14:56 GMT +319 February 2017
    A US Airborne Infantryman stands by as a Saudi Arabian national guardsman sights an FIM-92A Stinger portable anti-aircraft missile launcher. Archive photo.

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

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    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.

    In fact, Minister al-Jubeir's own comments to Spiegel gave away Riyadh's self-doubt with the whole idea.

    "This has to be studied very carefully…because you don't want such weapons to fall into the wrong hands," al-Jubeir noted. 

    With his interviewer countering by asking whether he meant that the weapons might fall "into the hands of Islamic State [Daesh]," the minister deferred to Washington, saying that "this is a decision that the international coalition will have to make. This is not Saudi Arabia's decision."

    A decision for the international coalition…If this is the case, it means that the Saudis will not be sending portable anti-air systems to Syria after all. Because unless Washington has totally lost its mind, it will not look too kindly on Riyadh sending weapons to jihadists which could shoot down Western commercial passenger jets or US-led coalition planes bombing Daesh in Iraq and eastern Syria.

    After all, it is a well-known fact (one which even rebel supporters now openly admit) that prior to the Syrian Army's liberation of Nubl and Zahraa in Aleppo province earlier this month, rebel factions had been actively engaged in trade with Daesh, moving fuel, food, and presumably weapons and fighters back and forth.

    The US position, essentially, is what prevented Riyadh from sending anti-aircraft systems to Syria in the first place. 

    In February 2014, commenting on the latest rumor of Saudi portable SAM deliveries to Syria, The Wall Street Journal pointed out that "the US has long opposed arming rebels with anti-aircraft missiles, for fear they could fall into the hands of extremists who might use them against the West or commercial airlines. The Saudis have held off supplying them in the past because of US opposition. A senior Obama administration official said Friday that the US objection remains the same. 'There hasn't been a change internally on our view', the official said." Then, as now, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

    In the final analysis, even if all of the above turns out to be wrong, and Saudi Arabia does decide to open a Pandora's Box by sending mobile SAMs to Syria, the move would not change the outcome of the Syrian war. 

    Speaking to International Business Times UK about the Saudi foreign minister's comments, Nic R. Jenzen-Jones, the director of the technical intelligence consultancy Armament Research Services, emphasized that "from a technical perspective, the types of MANPADS or other SAMs (surface-to-air-missiles) Saudi Arabia would be likely to supply to moderate rebel groups are probably going to be of limited effectiveness against some of the modern Russian combat aircraft operating within Syria."

    The systems the Saudis would provide, Jenzen-Jones explained, "are likely to be legacy missile systems," which, for the most part, could "pose a notable threat [only] to Syrian government aircraft, particularly rotary-wing aircraft" (i.e. helicopters).

    In the long term, Russian military expert Viktor Murakhovski suggests, Saudi SAM deliveries "will not significantly influence the course and outcome of the ongoing fighting in Syria."

    Would they force Syrian and Russian aircraft to adjust their tactics? Definitely. Could they lead to losses for Syrian aircraft? Possibly. Could they result in Russia assisting the Syrian Air Force by providing it with modern SAM countermeasures? Certainly. Would they affect the outcome of the war? Definitely not.


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    MANPADS, anti-aircraft missiles, comments, analysis, Daesh, Syrian Air Force, Syrian Arab Army, Saudi Foreign Ministry, Al-Nusra Front, Aerospace Defense Forces (VKO), Adel al-Jubeir, Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia
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    • support
      Gosh, that's a tough one. Let me think, please...

      That will be "Aerial Bombardment" for $1,000, Alex. (Ding, ding)
    • avatar
      marcanhaltin reply toHuh?(Show commentHide comment)
      Huh?, I was sure you were doing the same thing I was; shaking a stick under those 'bedsheets' to see if there was anything under them except 'dust bunnies'.
    • avatar
      "Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning,
      their blood will be on their own head" Ezekiel 33 .......Russia Syria Hezbollah are all have made it crystal clear to all the players in this foreign invasion..... every step they take in continuance of it is to their own destruction ....and this is their Final warning from sights unseen
    • avatar
      Tit for tat if those fat a** Saudi Royals send one manpad to their terrorist cohorts, then Russia should react on the double, send igla's to Houthis in Yemen, if those missiles end up in the wrong hands it will be on Obozo'z head and that Saudi Royals also Erdogan's, these clowns are asking for total war. also if Russia bombs the supply line these missiles are coming from kill the Saudi or Turkish clowns manning them.
    • siberianhusky
      Let the games begin and see who will win. I would not put my money on the KSA camel humpers
    • avatar
      russia must supply to the Yemen Forces portable air-defense-units
      so they can take care of the Invaders !
      and Russia should use different Warheads maybe even biological warheads
      of course Russia and Syrian Forces must adujust themself !
    • avatar
      Hope the US helps the Al Saud blood suckers.
    • Is it because I am black?
      Not even these Wahabbists seem so intent on a ground war in Syria, because they would be killed. So there is a chance for peace.
    • jaodernein garshinvic
      Russia, deliver weapons to Yemeni resistants! please!
    • avatar
      aubreydgarrettin reply tojaodernein garshinvic(Show commentHide comment)
      jaodernein, You mean honkin' big missiles that would stretch to Riyadh ?? lol
    • avatar
      Those Saudi Princesses do not have the balls to send surface to air portable missals to Syria. That Russian Bear would eat the ass of the desert Camel in short order. They shoot their mouths of as bad as the squawking Turkey with little real follow up.
    • avatar
      Randall Lee Hilburn
      What happened to the same sorts of missiles that the US has already sent to the rebels? The US Media has long ago reported they were sent to the "moderate" opposition to protect themselves against Russian and Syrian air attacks..
    • avatar
      How about while the ceasefire takes place this weekend the bombardment of KSA commences? That would be refreshing to see.Suddenly everything in Syria would be running like a clockwork.
    • Alabama Mothman
      The "House of Saud" has unleashed hell on earth. If ANY US airliners are shot down, Obama and his Saudi allies bear FULL responsibility.
    • avatar
      If the Saudis say this and then do it, it's the same as saying the terrorist American government said it and did it.
    • avatar
      Riyahd should take note of the consequences of supplying shoulder SAM's to ISIL,as warned by Russia.
      1.They will be used to down their own civilian aircrafts and that could be anywhere in the world as ISIL is a massive network.
      Russia has trapped them in a catch 22.See if they can figure this out.
      2.They shouldn't think they'll get away with this in further destabilising the borders and the legitimate Government of Syria.Russia,Syria and Iran will retaliate and it will not be good for them.
    • FlorianGeyer
      A big bonus for Russia if the Saudi inbred simpletons do supply modern missiles to DAESH and if Russia decided to bomb Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure in response, would be a massive overnight increase in the world oil price that the Saudi's would not benefit from. This would also save the US fracking industry as well.

      Destruction of Saudi ports and pipelines is a Win Win for Russia and America. Perhaps the destruction of the Saudi desalination water plants would be good targets as well.
    • avatar
      cmat.wolfgangin reply toFlorianGeyer(Show commentHide comment)
      how many nuclear bombs would be needed to make Riyadh desert like?
      Is there any country in the world which really has sympathies for Saudi Arabia?
    • FlorianGeyerin reply tocmat.wolfgang(Show commentHide comment)

      It would be better to target the tools of state oppression I my opinion. Most of their military are mercenaries anyway and the oppressed people of Saudi Arabia do not need an airforce or a navy, so the eradication of those capabilities would allow the people to rid themselves of the Saudi Royals.
    • avatar
      Saudis are bunch of coward camel fucking soldier ,,, go ahead send ur anti aircraft guns
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