In the News: Yakhont Goes Boom and Sugar-Packed MiGs

Explosions on July 5th in the Syrian port city of Latakia may have been a shipment of Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, allegedly destroyed by a cruise missile launched from an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine.

Japan is catching flak for criticising China’s defence buildup and strident unilateral behaviour in ongoing island territorial disputes in this year’s defence white paper. The Defense News article does a good job of examining all sides of the issue.

For the Chinese (and the South Koreans, who also have an island in dispute with Japan), this comes across as advancing the militant nationalist agenda of the Abe government. To the Americans, it is a signal that Japan may be willing to increase its investment in its own defence, a sore point for the Americans who are essentially spending $80 billion a year providing defence to Japan.

An objective observer might note, however, that the Japanese are acknowledging a real problem in calling out China’s unilateral actions and violations of Japanese territorial waters and airspace (hundreds of instances every year). One might also note that the Americans are unlikely to get what they want. Japan seems to have no plans to expand its military forces in any meaningful way. It has fallen behind China in production of naval air defence ships, new combat aircraft acquisitions and now carriers as well, and there are no plans to redress the balance.

Panama has impounded a North Korean freighter found to be carrying two MiG-21s, assorted spare parts and a number of obsolete surface-to-air missile systems from Cuba, concealed under bags of sugar. Defense News presents a history of North Korean sanction-busting. Frankly, if MiG-21’s and SA-2s are all it’s got them, let them have it.

The CSIS think tank published its annual in-depth analysis of the US defense budget.

The Washington Post published a very interesting interview discussing the direction of China’s economy. The bottom line is that even this quarter’s 7.5% growth was massively subsidised through government underwriting of unsustainable (and uneconomic) capital investments, and any attempt to change current policies in order to develop domestic consumption could trigger an economic crisis.

George Freidman of Stratfor writes very perceptively on the NSA and the problem with surveillance today:
“The problem with the war on terror is that it has no criteria of success that is potentially obtainable. It defines no level of terrorism that is tolerable but has as its goal the elimination of all terrorism, not just from Islamic sources but from all sources. That is simply never going to happen and therefore, PRISM and its attendant programs will never end. These intrusions, unlike all prior ones, have set a condition for success that is unattainable, and therefore the suspension of civil rights is permanent. Without a constitutional amendment, formal declaration of war or declaration of a state of emergency, the executive branch has overridden fundamental limits on its powers and protections for citizens.”

In the News- Syria and Russia

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.