July 27, 2016
Use of Surface-to-Surface Missiles by Syrian Rebels Expands
July 25th, 2016
July 24th / 25th, 2016
Syrian rebel group Jaysh Al-Islam launches two missiles in Aleppo
Osint (Open Source Intelligence), Varied, Video
Officially formed in September 2013, Jaysh Al-Islam (Army of Islam) is a coalition of more than 50 different Syrian rebel groups and a major member – in terms of numbers and capacity – in a framework known as The Syrian Islamic Front, Al-Jabhat Al-Islamiyya As-Surya, a coalition of Islamic brigades and the biggest bloc of Syrian Islamist affiliated rebel groups* whose goal is to remove Assad and then create Syria as an Islamic State.
Reportedly on July 23rd or 24th The Syrian Islamic Front launched two surface-to-surface missiles targeting Assad’s forces in the area of Al- Khalidiyah, a district which is located in Aleppo. According to one report, the missiles are named “Omar,” though no such writing appears on the missiles in the video which documents the launching and impact of the missiles.
During the war in Syria, Syrian rebel groups have proven an impressive ability to independently develop weapons.
For example, in the early stages of the war they had already developed a canon they name “Hell.” However, to the best of my knowledge, the rebels use of surface-to surface missiles, which we have seen over the past few days, is new.
In analyzing the July 26 video of the latest reported launch, with the July 20 video, which documents the launch of a missile by the Salahuddin Division of the Free Syrian Army in the area of Quneitra in southern Syria – which I reported in my July 24 Intelligence Bulletin Do the Syrian Rebels in the Golan Heights have Surface-to-Surface Missiles? – there are similarities between the missiles including size, launching system, etc.
However, the new video offers a closer look at the missile. Though the missile body seems domestically manufactured, the script (perhaps in Cyrillic), a number imprinted on the detonating cap, as well as the design of the missile engine could indicate that these components are military industry standard and were manufactured in military factory — perhaps by Assad’s Military Industries. Thus, it is possible these components were stored on Assad’s army bases and were seized by the rebels.
The use of such a weapon is important for two main perspectives:
First, it provides the rebels with momentum, and, to a certain degree – makes up for their inferiority due to the fact that they lack aerial capacity.
Second, Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria, and the center of the Syrian economy and commerce, is a major stronghold for the Rebels. Al-Khalidiyah is a northern neighborhood of Aleppo located close to the major M-5 highway – also known as the “Al-Costello Road” which connects Aleppo and Damascus. This highway serves as a major supply route for the Rebel groups. Over the past few weeks battles have raged for control of the highway, as the Assad-Iran Axis tries to enforce a siege on Aleppo supported by Russian areal raids. The siege on Aleppo has two primary goals. One, to create stress among the civilian population, who Assad and the Iranians hope will then pressure the Rebels to surrender. Two, to shut down the supply routes for the Rebels – particularly from the north and the east – in order to block the rebels primary source of weapons and ammunition which comes from Turkey. On July 27, according to information provided by a media platform associated with the Assad regime, Assad’s forces gained complete control of the highway, blocking the Rebels supply route. The use of surface to surface missiles could force Assad’s forces to stay away from the highway which could disrupt Assad’s attempt to complete the siege. On July 31 the Syrian Rebels reportedly launched a counter-attack in the southern area of Aleppo to break the siege.
The fact that within a very short time period, two different Syrian rebel groups – Jaysh Al-Islam and the Salahuddin Division – launched similar – if not identical, missiles in two different areas which are located hundreds of miles away from each other is intriguing. It could indicate that they have the military knowhow and some capacity to manufacture the missiles and / or that they have missiles, or major missile components, from Assad’s arsenal.
In the near future, I do not foresee massive use of surface-to-surface missiles, since in my evaluation, the rebels do not currently possess large numbers of these types of missiles.
End Intelligence Bulletin
(*) On that group read more in my recent book Inside the Middle East: Making Sense of the Most Dangerous and Complicated Region on Earth