Syrian rebels fighting for control of the Syria’s biggest town, Aleppo, have obtained their first heavy weapons – 220-mm MLRS rocket launchers – through a large-scale supply operation run by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, according toDEBKAfile’s exclusive intelligence sources.
His agents scoured the Balkans nations of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo and for large wads of cash snapped up Russian-made MLRS (Smerch) and Hurricane 9K57 launchers capable of firing scores of 220-mm rockets to a distance of 70 kilometers.
The Saudis hope to expedite the rebel capture of the big Syrian Nairab air base attached to Aleppo’s international air port. The Saudi prince has personally taken the Nairab battle under his wing, convinced that it is the key to the conquest of Aleppo, once Syria’s national commercial and population center, after more than a year’s impasse in the battle for its control.
The fall of this air base would also substantially reduce the big Iranian and Russian airlifts to Assad’s army.
Russia brings down its cargo planes loaded with weapons and replacement parts for the Syrian army at Nairab after the air facilities around Damascus were targeted by rebel fire. Moscow has since warned the rebels that if they attack incoming or outgoing Russian planes at Nairab, Russian special forces will come in to wipe out their strength around the base and take over its protection themselves.
Of late, Russian and Iranian arms lifts to Nairab were doubled, after rebels seized many Alawite villages in the Aleppo and Idlib regions of northern Syria.
Members of Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, their inhabitants, mainly women and children, have been fleeing en masse from their homes in fear of rebel retribution. They are making for the coastal towns of Tartus and Latakia which are still under regime control.
The question is for how long. In the third week of March, Russian warships stopped docking at the naval port of Tartus after finding its piers and facilities crowded with Alawite refugees who came up to the Russian seamen begging for food, water and medical aid.
From March 21, Russian warships on the Mediterranean were ordered to avoid Tartus and relocate their visits to Lebanon’s Beirut port.
The Saudi operation for shipping heavy rocket launchers from the Balkans to Aleppo is complicated.
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