Russia has sent advanced antiship cruise missiles to Syria, a move that illustrates the depth of its support for the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, American officials said Thursday.
Russia has previously provided a version of the missiles, called Yakhonts, to Syria. But those delivered recently are outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective, according to American officials who are familiar with classified intelligence reports and would only discuss the shipment on the basis of anonymity.
Unlike Scud and other longer-range surface-to-surface missiles that the Assad government has used against opposition forces, the Yakhont antiship missile system provides the Syrian military a formidable weapon to counter any effort by international forces to reinforce Syrian opposition fighters by imposing a naval embargo, establishing a no-fly zone or carrying out limited airstrikes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that Moscow’s sale of a sophisticated missile defense system to President Bashar Assad could push the Middle East into war.
Netanyahu, who flew to meet Putin for emergency talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, told the Russian president that the S-300 had no relevance to Assad’s civil-war battles against rebel groups, and urged Moscow not to deliver the systems, Channel 2 reported on Wednesday night.
He said that if acquired by Assad, the S-300 — a state-of-the-art system that can intercept fighter jets and cruise missiles — “is likely to draw us into a response, and could send the region deteriorating into war,” the Channel 2 report said.
In other news…
Undeterred by pleas and warnings from Israel, Russia made clear on Thursday that it will go ahead with its planned delivery of a highly sophisticated air-defense system to Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in an emergency face-to-face meeting on Tuesday that Moscow’s sale of the S-300 missile defense system to Assad could push the Middle East into war.
But Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, evidently unmoved by the dramatic Israeli warning, declared on Thursday that while Moscow was “not signing any new deals,” it would honor existing contracts with Syria, including for the air-defense systems. “We’ve already carried out some of the deal,” Lavrov said, “and we will carry the rest of it out in full.”