What happens when U.S. surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles end up in jihadist hands?
President Obama is considering ramping up military support to the Syrian rebels, who are increasingly dominated by jihadists. American anti-tank missiles have already appeared in videos in the hands of rebel forces. According to an April 21st report in Time Magazine, the White House is now considering sending the rebels shoulder-fired surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles known as manpads. In the wrong hands, such missiles could be used to take out commercial aircraft.
Senator John McCain is pushing the Obama administration to take that risk. To combat the Assad regime’s use of barrel bombs dropped on civilian populations from government helicopters, McCain said in a March interview with Time Magazine that he was “willing to take the risk of a manpad, the risk of them falling into the wrong hands.”
McCain’s willingness to take the risk of anti-aircraft missiles getting into the wrong hands is wrong-headed for several reasons. The most obvious reason is the blowback the United States and its allies will suffer when jihadists fighting in Syria take the weapons they have looted from the so-called “moderate” rebels and use them against us. Nearly half of the rebel fighters are “jihadists or hardline Islamists,” according to a summary by The Telegraph of a report the IHS Jane's defense consultancy group issued last year. And they are the best trained and equipped forces amongst the Syrian opposition.
Al Qaeda-linked groups have set up training camps in Syria, which they are using to prepare foreign jihadists for their return from Syria to spread their attacks more widely. This includes jihadists from Western countries such as the Rayat Al-Tawheed group, the British jihadist faction in Syria, that has posted an image of the White House with the caption “Wait a while there will come to you mounts carrying lions in shining armour battalions followed by battalions.” Put weapons capable of shooting down commercial aircraft in the hands of these jihadists and we won’t have to wait awhile before reaping the consequences.
Another reason not to pour such weapons into the Syrian conflict at this stage is that we are way too late to make any material difference in the eventual outcome. Assad is winning the war slowly but surely, with help from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. The anti-aircraft missiles may have a marginal impact in slowing Assad’s offense down further in some locations. However, they will not be able to completely stop the barrel bombs and other lethal weapons Assad is using with such success against the opposition.
As the intelligence and security news service DEBKAfile explained:
“The newly-armed rebels have gained not much more than the capacity to hold on to their present lines for a while longer. But ultimately, they cannot prevent the combined weight of the Syria army, Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite Iraqis, who continue to stream into Syria, breaking through those lines.”
Vladimir Putin will also be only too happy to further arm the Assad regime and counter anything the U.S. might be sending, if for no other reason than to embarrass Obama.
Senator McCain’s goal of using the anti-aircraft missiles to stop the Assad regime’s barrel bombing is unachievable, unless we were to get sucked into establishing a complete no-fly zone over the country and staying militarily involved for the long haul. However, there is no appetite among most Americans to get involved in yet another protracted war in the Muslim world, nor should there be given the dismal results we have seen in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan under Obama's leadership. Even if Assad and his henchmen were to be removed, no secular democracy will follow in their wake. Anarchy along the lines we are seeing in Libya, with power vacuums filled by jihadists bent on creating an Islamic caliphate in Syria, will follow. More Christians and other “infidels” will be persecuted and murdered. Assad’s removal will not end the suffering of the Syrian people. The barrel bombs that Senator McCain wants to stop, even at the risk of seeing our own lethal weapons end up in the “wrong hands,” will be replaced with beheadings and other atrocities done with those very same “wrong hands.”
President Obama’s apparent openness to providing more advanced weaponry to the Syrian rebels at this stage of the conflict could well be the result of his meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah last month, where Saudi concerns about U.S. resolve in dealing with the Assad regime and Iran’s nuclear threat were discussed. In bowing to the wishes of the Saudi government for more direct U.S. military aid to the Syrian rebels, Obama may have gotten some breathing room from the Saudi leaders as he tries in vain to negotiate a comprehensive, verifiable nuclear deal with Iran. If so, Obama is putting the interests of the United States behind those of a fanatical Sunni Muslim regime that has spawned global jihad and sees Syria as another beachhead to advance that cause.
President Obama would do well to focus on far more strategically important concerns to the United States, such as stopping the world's biggest sponsor of terror, Iran, from acquiring nuclear weapons by whatever means are necessary, and dealing effectively with a resurgent Russia.
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