DAMASCUS, Syria – Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s supplying the long-range anti-aircraft missile S-300 to Syria despite pleas from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry not to do so, according to a report in
Putin argued that the S-300 is a “defensive” weapon and will help stabilize the region.
In June 2012, Syria was supposed to receive the S-300s but the contract was canceled due to Western political pressure. The announcement is intended to show Moscow’s support for al-Assad at all costs.
Putin’s rebuff of Netanyahu and Kerry comes following two separate Israeli airstrikes on Syria this month, with a promise of more if Jerusalem believes that Syrian weapons transfers to Hezbollah will continue.
The two initial airstrikes, however, were launched from Israeli aircraft in Lebanese airspace, with the first strike hitting a convoy of what are said to have been advanced weapons for Hezbollah.
Hezbollah already is assessed to have quite an arsenal of missiles from Syria, which has served as a conduit for Iran to pass them along to its proxy.
Two days following that attack, Israel launched a second airstrike – again from Lebanese air space – on a military research facility on a high hill overlooking Damascus.
The second airstrike brought a Syrian threat to retaliate, declaring that the airstrikes were an “act of war” and prompting Syrian charges that the Israelis were working with the Syrian opposition. Those rebels currently are embroiled in a civil war against the Syrian government.
Sources believe, however, that Syria won’t retaliate and, given the state of its military, such retaliation is considered remote.
Yet, Israeli officials already have served warning that they will continue airstrikes against any target they perceive as weapons destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon, with the prospect that continued shipments of weapons could mean Israeli effort to topple al-Assad’s government. That prospect also could set off the Russians.
The launching of Israeli airstrikes brought protests from Lebanon and the United Nations, saying that such incursions into Lebanese airspace were contrary to United Nations Resolution 1701.
Lebanon lacks any kind of air defenses, including ground-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, although Iran, whose presence is very much evident in Lebanon and is closely allied with the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, has offered such assistance.
Informed sources say that Russia intends to ship four batteries of the S-300s which have from 100 to 150 simultaneously deployable, guided anti-aircraft missiles.
Sources say that once deployed, they will be manned by Russian military “advisers,” since the Syrians are not technically prepared to operate such advanced and complicated systems. They say Israel therefore could hurt Russians should there be more strikes.
This shipment of S-300s is yet a further indication of Russia’s commitment to al-Assad, despite rumors that the Russians are seeking an alternative to his leadership of Syria in an effort to bring stability to the country for Moscow’s own geostrategic purposes.
It is a further indication that the Russians believe that al-Assad has the upper hand in the civil war against the armed opposition, which appears to be increasingly disorganized with internal disputes over leadership and direction.
In addition, Iran and Hezbollah fighters increasingly are assisting al-Assad’s government forces in training and leadership for the beleaguered Syrian armed forces.
Putin wants to give al-Assad more time and to stop any foreign intervention or outside supply of weapons to the Syrian opposition, and to prevent the establishment of a no-fly zone.