The Syrian rebels may finally be getting the big guns. Following President Obama’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah last week, U.S. officials acknowledged that the Administration was willing to increase its “assistance” to the Syrian opposition, a policy more in line with Riyadh’s objectives. The Administration has not publicly specified what such assistance would entail, but an Administration insider recently tipped off the press. The LA Times reports:
Obama is considering sending man-portable air defense systems, known as “manpads,” along with other supplies to help opposition groups fighting the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, said the official, who requested anonymity to talk about the internal White House discussions. […]
The manpads are just one item on a long list of military supplies being considered, the official said, as the White House looks to broaden its coordination with allies in the region.
If the Times’s source is credible, this is big news for the Syrian opposition. Manpads are shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, a weapon capable of downing Syrian army jets. In the past, the U.S. has adamantly refused to provide the rebels with such a destructive tool, warning that the weapons might fall into the hands of extremist groups who could use them against Israeli airplanes or other civilian targets.
President Obama has maintained a position of strategic ambiguity towards the Saudi-Iranian proxy war happening in Syria. But in recent months Riyadh has signaled its willingness to act in the Levant with or without U.S. support. The U.S. will not find a perfect solution to the bloody quagmire that Syria has become, but as the President is realizing, inaction may no longer be an option.