After a nearly two-month hiatus (sorry about that- life, it seems, will happen), we return to publication with news items that are just begging for some bad jokes.
Russia has said that it will deliver S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles to Syria, honouring a previous contract, “to deter foreign intervention.” Days of confusion ensue as to whether or not the missiles have already been delivered. The United States and Germany plead with Russia not to go ahead with delivery, saying that it will alter the balance of power in the region.
The S-300 is a serious threat to modern air forces- if you’re the sort of country that has a densely-layered air defence system to back it up. The Syrian Army, as Israel has repeatedly demonstrated over the past few months, does not.
Meanwhile, Russia has already delivered Yakhont anti-ship missiles to Syria under a 2007 contract- rebel fishing trawlers beware! The Yakhont is the export version of the Onyx supersonic anti-ship missile, one of the world’s most dangerous. Presumably, these will all be used in shore batteries, since Syria’s Soviet-era missile boats would need serious work in order to handle them.
In a far more serious deterrent to foreign intervention, Russian vessels, including the aircraft carrier Kuznetsov, three amphibious assault ships which US officials believe to be carrying supplies of weapons for the regime and other vessels from the Russian Black Sea Fleet are sitting in the eastern Mediterranean.
Full-scale intervention in Syria always seemed politically unlikely, but the Russians’ presence on Syria’s short coastline makes any intervention from the sea almost impossible- even if the Russian vessels do not attempt to intervene, their presence lends the situation the potential to explode into a wider international incident should an accident occur. The question is, why should Russia feel such a degree of commitment to Assad? Of course, Putin may be trying to tick off the West on general principle- this just seems a rather expensive and risky investment.
Meanwhile, Assad has warned Israel that he will respond “in kind” to any future air strikes on Syrian territory, while citing “popular pressure” to retake the Golan Heights. Still no comment on the rather more urgent “popular pressure” for the president to leave office… Like Galtieri before him, Assad is looking for an enemy to distract his people- or perhaps he is throwing a sop to his Hezbollah allies. Unfortunately, civil wars don’t just go away.
With fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights today between rebels and government forces, Israel was not involved. Meanwhile, we can be sure that Israel takes Assad’s threats with all the seriousness that they deserve. I’m sure the Israelis are so terrified they can barely continue laughing. Israel may not be able to pacify a region without getting egg all over its face, but when the IDF is called to perform a mission it was actually designed for, like pounding whatever’s left of the Syrian Army at this point into the ground, the result is a foregone conclusion.