Saudi: Give Syrian rebels missiles to down Russian jets

Saudi: Give Syrian rebels missiles to down Russian jets
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has said Syrian moderate rebels facing an intense bombing campaign should be equipped with surface-to-air missiles.
3 min read
20 February, 2016
File photo: Russian-made 9K338 'Igla-S' (SA-18) man-portable air-defence (MANPAD) surface-to-air missile launcher [AFP]
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Syrian rebels should be armed with surface-to-air missiles against the Russian-backed Syrian regime.

Anti-aircraft weapons could tip the scales on the battlefield as they did in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, Adel al-Jubeir has said.

"We believe that introducing surface-to-air missiles in Syria is going to change the balance of power on the ground," he said, stressing this would have to be decided by a coalition of partner states.

"It will allow the moderate opposition to be able to neutralise 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," he added.

US military aid of anti-aircraft weapons to Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet occupation is credited with having significantly turned around the conflict that ended in Russia's withdrawal.

Russia began a bombing campaign in September last year to back up its longstanding ally Assad. Last year its pilots carried out more than 5,000 sorties.

Syrian opposition groups have accused Moscow of mainly targeting moderate rebels fighting the Assad regime as well as inflicting civilian casualties, a view shared by Western governments too.


Russian air raids in Syria have devastated the opposition [Getty]

Moscow insists it is tackling "terrorist" groups such as the Islamic state [IS] group.

The minister cautioned that "this has to be studied very carefully, however, because you don't want such weapons to fall into the wrong hands".

"This is a decision that the international coalition will have to make," Jubeir added. "This is not Saudi Arabia's decision."

He also said that Russian support would not save the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad in the long term, reiterating Riyadh's call for him to step down.

"The other option is that the war will continue and Bashar al-Assad will be defeated," he said.

Saudi Arabia has backed rebel forces fighting Assad in the country's nearly five-year civil war.

It has also been part of the US-led coalition bombing IS in Syria and Iraq since late 2014.

Jubeir said this week that any Saudi troops, including special forces, on the ground would make the battle against the IS its priority.

"We expressed our readiness to join the US-led, international coalition against [IS] with special forces," he said.

"All of this, however, is still in the discussion phase and in the initial planning phase," he added.

The Saudi chief diplomat also spoke about similarities between the Islam practiced in his country and the IS' religious ideology.

"[IS] is as much an Islamic organisation as the KKK in America is a Christian organisation," he said, referring to the white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan movement.

"They burned people of African descent on the cross, and they said they're doing it in the name of Jesus Christ.

"Unfortunately, in every religion there are people who pervert the faith. We should not take the actions of psychopaths and paint them as being representative of the whole religion."