Saudi Arabia plans to supply Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles the same time reports have surfaced that Al Qaeda already has their hands on similar missiles that are to be used against the Syrian Air Force but also can be turned against Israeli planes.
A classified report received by the German foreign intelligence service referred to by Der Spiegel Sunday states that the Saudi kingdom wants to arm rebels with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles can target low-flying aircraft including helicopters. Saudi Arabia has in mind to send rebels the European-made Mistral-class MANPADS, an acronym for man-portable air-defense systems.
An Egyptian newspaper reported Monday that Saudi Arabia actually has been supplying shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles to rebels “on a small scale” about two months ago. The reported Saudi supplies began shortly before the United States announced it would likely send arms to Syrian rebels.
Arming Syrian rebels negates to a certain extent Israel’s efforts to stymie the sale of Russian SA-300 anti-aircraft missiles, one of the most advanced in the world.
Israel may have kept anti-aircraft missiles out of the hands of Assad, but they are destined for both Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, which presumably already has more than few.
The Obama administration’s green light for arming rebels gave Saudi Arabia the go-ahead to send them anti-aircraft missiles. They clearly are intended to defend the rebels against the Syrian Air Force, but what happens if Hezbollah captures the weapons?
The Obama administration no doubt took into consideration that terrorist organizations have easy access to rebels’ weapons.
His official’s belated conclusion that Syrian President Bashar Assad has been using chemical weapons against Syrians perhaps left him with no choice but to lift his objections to arming rebels.
But the day-after could be disastrous.
The SA-7 missile does not come close to the SA-300 in terms of sophistication, but the downing of one Israeli aircraft by terrorists would be catastrophic from all aspects.
Besides the loss of lives, it would fuel to no end the Arab urge to annihilate Israel. Israel would have no choice but to retaliate whether in Syria in Lebanon, with the possible escalation on the side of Hezbollah and Iran.
Several defense systems have been tested to protest airplanes from the SA-7 missile, but the weapon’s heat-sinking technology would hone in on an airplane engine once the targeted craft tries to intercept the missiles.
This can be overcome by the anti-missile missile’s sending out high-temperature flares to lure the missile away from the plane. The defense system is said to be 90-percent effective, and that other 10 percent could be the catalyst for a regional war.
The Associated Press reported last week that manuals for using the missiles were discovered by France in Al Qaeda’s offices in Mali. The same missiles are believed to be in Iraq Somalia and Afghanistan, many of them having been smuggled out of Libya during the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi.
The United States previously tried to keep the MANPADs out of the hands of terrorists. The United States was so worried about this particular weapon ending up in the hands of terrorists that the State Department set up a task force to track and destroy it as far back as 2006.
Terrorists in Kenya fired them at a plane full of Israel tourists in 2002, but the missiles missed their target, possibly due to lack of training.
The SA-7 anti-aircraft missile has been used against more than 40 civilian airplanes in the past four decades, causing more than 800 deaths, according to the U.S. Department of State.
The manuals in Al Qaeda’s hands might overcome that hurdle.
The SA-7 weighs only 30 pounds and can be packed into a duffel bag. The total time required to fire the missile is six seconds.