Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Western reports have claimed that the Free Syrian Army [FSA] is in possession of anti-aircraft Stinger missiles capable of changing the balance of power on the ground in Syria between the al-Assad regime and opposing rebel forces. Al-Arabiya quoted a Syrian opposition source who confirmed that 14 Stinger missiles had been delivered to the FSA at the Iskenderun area along the border with Turkey. He added that both Turkey and the United States were aware of the arms delivery. Al-Arabiya also quoted a second US-based opposition source, who asserted that the FSA have yet to use these arms, saying “there is no indication that the Free Syrian Army has used the Stinger missiles yet.” As for the Syrian fighter jet reportedly downed by the FSA last Monday, the source said this was shut down by anti-aircraft guns.
Commenting on this report, FSA spokesman Louai Miqdad told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we cannot confirm or deny this” however he did reveal that “the type of arms possessed by the FSA has evolved over the past two weeks.” Miqdad attributed this development to two major reasons, “Firstly, due to the ability of the FSA to liberate a number of regions where there were weapon repositories belonging to the regime’s forces, including air defense systems. Secondly, Syria is a country that geographically shares broad borders with the surrounding countries, including borders with Iraq and Turkey, totalling more than 800 km, and nobody can stop the thriving black market arms trade.”
Miqdad also stressed that “none of the countries, whether the US, Saudi Arabia or Qatar, has provided us with arms, at least until today” adding “as for what will happen tomorrow, nobody knows.”
The FSA spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat “I do not deny that these countries, particularly Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are providing us with humanitarian and material aid and assistance, and even political support.”
He stressed that “the FSA has become organizationally stronger, and if we have anti-aircraft missiles capable of bringing down MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets, we have not utilized them.”
He added that the MiG fighter jet that was downed last week was not shot down by a surface-to-air missile but by a 23.5 caliber anti-aircraft gun. He stressed that the fighter jet was flying at low altitude, which is how the rebels were able to shoot it down. Miqdad said that the same applies to the regime helicopters shot down by the FSA, stressing that, as of yet, no surface-to-air missiles have been fired by the Syrian rebels.
The presence of Stinger missiles in the hands of the FSA would represent a major military development on the ground in Syria, as this could change the balance of power in the confrontation taking place between the regime’s forces and the FSA, largely neutralizing the regime’s advantage in terms of aerial superiority. This would also represent a major political shift, as it is unlikely that such weapons could be delivered to the FSA without the knowledge of Turkey and the US, particularly as Washington must approve any sale of US-made arms to third parties.
For his part, an Al-Arabiya source claimed that the American government had been keen to ensure that the Stinger missiles were delivered to known FSA units, rather than jihadist organizations operating in Syria.