Saudi Arabian involvement in the Syrian Civil War

Saudi Arabia's involvement in the Syrian War involved the large-scale supply of weapons and ammunition to various rebel groups in Syria during the Syrian Civil War.

The Financial Times reported in May 2013 that Qatar was becoming a larger provider of arms to the various groups.[1] Since the summer of 2013, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the main group to finance and arm the rebels.[2] Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons, such as Yugoslav-made recoilless guns and the M79 Osa, an anti-tank weapon, from Croatia via shipments shuttled through Jordan.[3] The weapons began reaching rebels in December 2012 which allowed rebels' small tactical gains against the Syrian army.[3] This shipment was said to be to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to aid the Syrian government.[3]

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have received criticism from the Western Media for backing certain Syrian rebels associated with the Army of Conquest, which includes the al-Nusra front, an al-Qaeda affiliated group.[4]

In August 2017, the Syrian opposition was informed by the Saudi foreign minister that the Kingdom was disengaging from them.[5] Subsequently, Saudi Arabia has taken a more conciliatory stance towards the Syrian government.[6]

Croatian weapons

In December 2012, a new wave of weapons from foreign supporters were transferred to rebel forces via the Jordanian border in the country's south. The arms included M79 Osa anti-tank weapons and M-60 recoilless rifles purchased by Saudi Arabia from Croatia. Previously, most of the weapons were delivered via the Turkish border in the north. The goal for the change in routes was to strengthen moderate rebels and to support their push towards Damascus.[7][8]

Timber Sycamore

Saudi Arabia was involved in the CIA–led Timber Sycamore covert operation to train and arm Syrian rebels. A classified US State Department cable signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reported that Saudi donors were a major support for Sunni militant forces globally, and some American officials worried that Syrian rebels being supported had ties to Al Qaeda.[9]

Bandar bin Sultan

In August 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan had been appointed to lead Saudi Arabia's efforts to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and that the US Central Intelligence Agency considered this a sign of how serious Saudi Arabia was about this aim. Bandar was described as "jetting from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to the Élysée Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime." After tensions with Qatar over supplying rebel groups, Saudi Arabia switched its efforts from Turkey to Jordan in 2012, using its financial leverage over Jordan to develop training facilities there, overseen by Bandar's half-brother Salman bin Sultan. In late 2012 Saudi intelligence also began efforts to convince the US that the Assad government was using chemical weapons.[10] The Saudi government also would be sending prisoners sentenced to death to fight in Syria.[11]

Former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove revealed he was told Bandar's intentions, claiming the Prince had told him "The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them." Dearlove has expressed his view that "Saudi Arabia is involved in the ISIS-led Sunni rebellion".[12]

November 2015 escalation

Following the Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, Saudi Arabia heavily increased its support and supply of arms such as anti-tank weapons in order to assist rebels in countering major new government offensives backed by Russian air support.[13]

Silk Airlines weapons transfers for terrorist and rebel groups

In July 2017 an investigation Dilyana Gaytandzhieva: [14] by the leading Bulgarian daily newspaper Trud, which has a reputation for investigative crime reporting[15] revealed how Silk Way Airlines exploited a loophole in the international aviation and transport regulations to offer flights to arms manufacturers and private companies – with much of the cargo heading for known terrorist enclaves in Syria, but also to other conflict zones including Central Asia and Africa.

The published documents included correspondence between the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Azerbaijan to Bulgaria with attached documents for weapons deals and diplomatic clearance for overflight and/or landing in Bulgaria and other countries, including Saudi Arabia. The documents disclosed that American weapons manufacturers had shipped over $1 billion of weapons through Silk Way Airlines, corporate subcontractors included ″Purple Shovel LLC″ based in Sterling, Virginia, US Department of Defense subcontracting vehicle ″Culmen International LLC″ based in Alexandria, weapons and defense procurement firm ″Chemring Military Products″ based in Perry, Florida. When Silk Way Airlines did not have enough available planes, Azerbaijan’s Air Force jets would transport the military shipments. In the investigation the reporter accused responsible authorities of many countries (Israel, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Turkey, as well as to the militaries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, the military forces of Germany and Denmark in Afghanistan and of Sweden in Iraq, and the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)) to "have turned a blind eye and allowed diplomatic flights for the transport of tons of weapons, carried out by civil aircrafts [sic] for military needs."[16][17][18]

Syrian Democratic Forces

As of early 2018 after the election of US President Donald Trump and other opposition groups losing ground, Saudi Arabia began talks with Arab factions in the Syrian Democratic Forces. The Kingdom also coordinated with the United States in its support for SDF after US President Trump suggested an end to American military presence in Syria, to be replaced with an Arab force made up of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. however Egypt rejected the idea,[19] since reaching out to Arab affiliated SDF groups Saudi Arabia has set up recruitment centers offering new recruits the equivalent of $200, Saudi Arabia has also set up two communications checkpoints in Qamshili and Hasakah.[20][21]

Groups known to have receive Saudi support


  1. Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding Smith (16 May 2013). "Qatar bankrolls Syrian revolt with cash and arms". Financial Times. Retrieved 3 June 2013. (subscription required)
  2. Saudi edges Qatar to control Syrian rebel support retrieved 6 June 2013
  3. Chivers, C. J.; Schmitt, Eric (26 February 2013). "In Shift, Saudis Are Said to Arm Rebels in Syria". New York Times. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  4. Kim Sengupta (12 May 2015). "Turkey and Saudi Arabia alarm the West by backing Islamist extremists the Americans had bombed in Syria". The Independent.
  5. "Victory for Assad looks increasingly likely as world loses interest in Syria". The Guardian. 31 August 2017.
  7. Sly, Liz; DeYoung, Karen (23 February 2013). "In Syria, new influx of weapons to rebels tilts the battle against Assad". Washington Post.
  8. Chivers, C. J.; Schmitt, Eric (25 February 2013). "Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms". The New York Times.
  9. Norton, Ben (28 June 2016). "CIA and Saudi weapons for Syrian rebels fueled black market arms trafficking, report says". Archived from the original on 27 September 2016.
  10. Adam Entous, Nour Malas and Margaret Coker, Wall Street Journal, 25 August 2013, A Veteran Saudi Power Player Works To Build Support to Topple Assad
  11. Cooke, Shamus (21 January 2013). "Report: Saudis sent death-row inmates to fight Syria". USA Today. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
  12. Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped ISIS take over the north of the country : A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, The Independent, 14-07-15
  13. Saudi support to rebels slows Assad attacks: pro-Damascus sources, Reuters, 06-11-15
  14. 350 diplomatic flights carry weapons for terrorists, Trud, 2. July 2017
  15. John Herbert: Practising Global Journalism: Exploring Reporting Issues Worldwide, Focal Press, Oxford and Woburn, MA, 2001, p. 186
  16. Harut Sassounian: The U.S. and Europe Must Investigate Azerbaijani Shipments of Weapons to Terrorists, The Armenian Weekly, 11 July 2017
  17. Report: Saudi, UAE weapons end up with armed groups, Al Jazeera, 27 August 2017
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