The Obama administration is considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to Syrian rebels, a U.S. official said Friday, according to The Associated Press (AP).
President Barack Obama’s possible shift would likely be welcomed by Saudi Arabia, which has been pressing the White House to allow the man-portable air-defense systems, known as “manpads,” into Syria.
Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday for meetings with King Abdullah.
Allowing manpads to be delivered to Syrian rebels would mark a shift in strategy for the U.S., which until this point has limited its lethal assistance to small weapons and ammunition, as well as humanitarian aid.
The U.S. has been grappling for ways to boost the rebels, who have lost ground in recent months, allowing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to regain a tighter grip on the war-torn nation.
A report in January said that the U.S. had been supplying “moderate” rebel groups with light arms and that Congress had approved funding for months of further deliveries.
There has been pressure to arm the Syrian rebels for quite some time, particularly since the U.S. government confirmed that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, thus violating the “red line” set by President Obama.
However, lawmakers were concerned that weapons could reach factions like the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Islamist rebel factions such as Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have performed atrocities during the ongoing civil war, including publicly beheading those accused of collaborating with the Assad regime, and even executing members of rival rebel groups.
According to Friday’s AP report, if Obama does indeed decide to supply rebels with manpads, the actual manpad shipments could come from the Saudis, who have so far held off sending in the equipment because of U.S. opposition.
The president is not expected to announce a final decision on the matter during his overnight trip to the Gulf kingdom, according to the report. U.S. and Saudi intelligence officials have been discussing the possibility of injecting manpads into the crisis for some time, including during a meeting in Washington earlier this year.
Rebels said back in June of 2013 they had received Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia. Other reports said that the Central Intelligence Agency had begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month.
Earlier this week, Syria's opposition called for "sophisticated" arms at an Arab summit in Kuwait. At the same summit, Saudi Arabia stressed the need for a change in military balance to "end the impasse".
The Syrian rebels recently suffered a series of setbacks, particularly after Assad’s troops captured the key town of Yabroud on the Lebanese border from rebel groups.
The more moderate rebel groups have also been dealing with attacks from the jihadist rebel groups, who consider fighting the moderates “more important than fighting Jews and Christians.”
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)