Analysis: Will U.S. give anti-craft missiles to Syrian rebels?

Analysis: Will U.S. give anti-craft missiles to Syrian rebels?
U.S. President Barack Obama REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

After the major losses that the Syrian rebels suffered in 2016 because of the Russian air campaign, the US administration hinted that it is studying a new law to send them anti-craft missiles, a move that Russia saw as a hostile act. However, will this move be real made on the ground?

Assad seemed in 2015 on the verge of being overthrown. Then Russia launched its military intervention as an air campaign, and Iran increased the number of its forces in Syria tilting the ride of war in Assad regime’s favor.

This military intervention in Syria worked against a diplomatic process the US administration pursued to no avail. The Syrian rebels were overwhelmed and lost most of their strongholds around Syria, while thousands of civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced as the “friends of the Syrian people” were watching.

However, U.S. President Barack Obama, who has been sharply critical of Russia’s intervention in Syria, signed the annual defense policy bill into law last week.

The law signed by Obama also contains a provision that sets conditions for the Pentagon to supply man-portable air defense systems (MANPAD) to Syrian rebels. Previous defense bills have been silent on the issue, and it’s long been U.S. policy not to give MANPADs to rebels at all for fear of them falling into terrorists’ hands.

Under the bill, the Pentagon can supply the weapons to vetted Syrian rebels after reporting to Congress a description of the rebels receiving the weapons, the number and type of the MANPADs being provided, the logistics of providing and resupplying the rebels, the duration of support and the justification for the support.

Russian denouncement

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the policy change easing restrictions on weapons supplies had been set out in a new U.S. defense spending bill and that Moscow regarded the step as a hostile act.

Moscow cast the bill as lifting restrictions on the provision of such weapons to Syrian rebels.

“Washington has placed its bets on supplying military aid to anti-government forces who don’t differ than much from blood thirsty head choppers. Now, the possibility of supplying them with weapons, including mobile anti-aircraft complexes, has been written into this new bill,” Zakharova said in a statement.

“In the administration of B. Obama they must understand that any weapons handed over will quickly end up in the hands of jihadists,” she added, saying that perhaps that was what the White House was counting on happening.

The U.S. decision was a direct threat to the Russian air force, to other Russian military personnel, and to Russia’s embassy in Damascus, said Zakharova.

“We, therefore, view the step as a hostile act.”

Zakharova accused the Obama administration of trying to “put a mine” under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump by attempting to get it to continue what she called Washington’s “anti-Russian line.”

“The [Russian] foreign ministry is saying that the Obama administration is trying to complicate the global situation ahead of the president-elect Donald Trump taking office,” she said.

Read more: Obama’s failure in Syria paved the way for Aleppo apocalypse

Will the US change its policy?

Some analysts see that the US haven’t given the Syrian opposition any support. On the contrary, it gave Assad a license to kill them, and this will not change now.

This was confirmed by state Department spokesman Mark Toner remarks. He dismissed the Russian charges, saying the administration remains opposed to providing portable anti-aircraft missiles, or MANPADS, to Syrian opposition groups.

“Our position on MANPADS has not changed. We have a very deep concern about that kind of weaponry getting into Syria,” Toner said, referring to fears that portable anti-aircraft missiles could end up in the hands of Islamist militants and be used against civilian airliners.

President Barack Obama said the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line” for him but then withered when Assad’s forces used sarin-filled shells to kill some 1,400 Syrians men, women, and children in 2013. America has armed and trained Syrian rebels, but only in small numbers. It never bombed Assad’s forces their behalf or established a no-fly zone where Syrian civilians might be safe from Syrian and Russian airstrikes.

“To the ones who fear of Trump’s statements and threats, revise Obama’s policy and you will find no difference. Trump is just speaking without any political mask,” Faisal al-Kasem, a prominent Syrian journalist, has said.

Therefore, most of the Syrians say that the latest is nothing more than a media propaganda to improve Obama’s picture before he leaves his office, and it will never come true especially after the latest meeting between Russia, Iran, and Turkey which made a new road map for the Syrian crisis and sidelined the US administration completely.