Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-FaisalSaudi Arabia, one of main Washington’s Arab allies, have agreed to provide Takfiri groups there with more sophisticated weaponry, including shoulder-fired missiles that can take down jets, according to Western and Arab diplomats and opposition figures, Wall Street Journal newspaper reported Saturday.
Saudi Arabia has offered to give the opposition for the first time Chinese man-portable air defense systems, or Manpads, and antitank guided missiles from Russia, according to an Arab diplomat and several opposition figures with knowledge of the efforts.
The U.S. has long opposed arming opposition gunmen with antiaircraft missiles for fear they could fall into the hands of extremists who might use them against the West or commercial airlines.
However, the U.S. has stepped up financial support, handing around $3 million in new aid to pay gumen’s salaries in the Southern Front delivering the payments in cash over two meetings in Jordan—one on Jan. 30 and the other late last year, said opposition field commanders who received some of the money, according to the daily.
“If the Manpads are supplied in the quantities needed, rebels said it could tip the balance in the stalemated war in favor of the opposition. The antiaircraft and Russian Konkurs antitank weapons would help them chip away at the regime’s two big advantages on the battlefield—air power and heavy armor,” it said.
Wall Street Journal noted that leaders of the Syrian political opposition said they don’t know yet how many of the Manpads and antiaircraft missiles they will get, but they have been told it is a significant amount.
“The weapons are already waiting in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey,” it added.
The daily stated that opposition groups leaders met with U.S. and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30 as the first round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva came to a close. That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons.
The weapons will flow across the border into southern Syria from the warehouses in Jordan and across the northern border from Turkey, the Western diplomat said.
“With the rebels still deeply divided and infighting growing, the new aid is aimed squarely at the more moderate and secular rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that the U.S. has always favored,” the newspaper said.
The plan coincides with the reorganization of rebel forces in the south, where 10,000 fighters have formed the Southern Front. The new front aims to break the government’s siege of the southern suburbs of Damascus.
Congressional aides in the United States confirmed there are scheduled meetings with opposition leaders next week to discuss their request for more advanced weapons. But Congress remains sharply divided about the conflict in Syria. Some lawmakers favor stepped-up support to moderate opposition groups, but others question the wisdom of providing heavy weapons.