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Syria Gets Advanced Air Defense Missiles from Russia as US Dithers

A Russian surface-to-air missile system

Russian-made S-300 antiaircraft missile launchers, considered one of the most advanced aerial defense systems in the world, have started arriving in Syria. Butcher Assad apparently gave an interview to Hezbollah’s TV station announcing that the first shipment of the weapons had arrived. The Israeli government, which sees the S-300s as a direct threat to national security, is ramping up its threats in response.

If these missile systems become operational, Israel’s “entire airspace will become a no-fly zone” and therefore it “cannot stand idly by,” Prime Mister Netanyahu told European foreign ministers, according to Haaretz. His National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror said the transfer of the S-300s to Syria was a “red line,” and that if the missiles reach their destination, “Israel will know what to do.”

“We understood from Amidror that the Israeli government thinks the missile transfer cannot be prevented, therefore it will act against them after the transfer but before they become operational,” an unnamed diplomat told Haaretz. According to experts, the Russian S-300s take time to assemble, and the Syrian crews that will eventually man them need training. This process could take between three and six months.

As our colleague Adam Garfinkle points out, the US has both a strategic interest and humanitarian interest in intervening in Syria, yet Washington does nothing but offer empty threats. Intervening would be dangerous and complicated, and there’s no way to predict if it would preserve the country of Syria as we know it, but these uncertainties will only increase with time.

And so Russia builds the missile launchers, which Syria buys and Israel bombs. What could possibly go wrong? Maybe, as Adam writes, the Obama administration’s calculus on intervention will change; maybe not. It’s anyone’s guess. The bottom line is that the Middle East, from Basra to Beirut, is fast becoming a complex, interconnected war.

[A Russian surface-to-air missile system S-300 PMU2 Favorit outside Moscow on April 18, 2012. Courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • bpuharic

    By all means let’s intervene so the Islamists can win another victory. Our intervention worked well in Iraq and Libya. Our non intervention produced pretty much the same outcome in Egypt. So let’s spend American money and blood because we have so much of both.

    What nonsense.

    • Terenc Blakely

      Dhimmitude looks good on you. Abject surrender is always a winning tactic.

      • bpuharic

        Tell us about the resounding victory in Iraq.

        Perhaps you should stick to facts instead of strawmen.

        • Terenc Blakely

          So should you. Last I heard Saddam was six feet under.

          • bpuharic

            How many people were killed last week by suicide bombers in our victorious, America loving ally?

          • Terenc Blakely

            Don’t know, don’t care. The primary goals of the Iraq war was to remove Saddam and emplace a government that didn’t support anti-American terrorists.
            Pure win on both counts. Anything else was gravy.

          • bpuharic

            Really? Iraq is a satrapy of Iran. You’re saying Iran is pro American?

            Good luck with that argument

  • Ed

    “Russian-made S-300 antiaircraft missile launchers, considered one of the most advanced aerial defense systems in the world, have started arriving in Syria.”

    There is an important distinction to be made here. Indeed, the S-300, in the hands of capable operators, is one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world. But, in this case, the hands operating it will be those of a rather poorly trained, rather poorly educated military incapable of improvising or using initiative.

    I noted that Israel’s 2007 strike on Syria’s nuclear reactor probably drove the price on Russian AA systems down, because they failed so spectacularly. But I was corrected by a retired Army officer who spent time training Middle Eastern forces. He said the missiles and radars are quite good, but the operators worse than useless. In his experience, most Arab militaries–even those considered quite professional–are made up of three tiers of soldier: connected officers (useless), competent officers (few) and functionally illiterate enlisted men and NCOs.

    The missiles are indeed a threat, were they operated by Russian crews. In all likelihood, they will merely provide a more amusing target for the IAF.

    • Southwestern SongDog

      But remember Korea. They used Russian speaking, North Korean pilots in their bright shiny new MiGs. Volunteers, no doubt.

    • robertmeerdahl

      perhaps, but you can still get an ugly surprise from such missiles, as the israelis did in 1973

  • USNK2

    More multi-dimensional explaining Russia and Syria:
    “Russia’s Middle-East Gambit The Syrian civil war puts Moscow’s relations with the West, Turkey, the Gulf States, and Israel to a
    serious test”

    By Dmitri Trenin|May 30, 2013 12:00 AM


  • James

    I thought I read a report a few months?weeks? ago that claimed the crews for the S-300 had already been trained in Russia.

  • anilpetra

    But we gave up radar installations in Poland! Reset the relationship! I thought Hillary Clinton meant smart diplomacy, Was she really this ineffective? More nails in the coffin of her 2016 candidacy. After Hillary, did John Kerry make things worse, if that’s possible?

  • robertmeerdahl

    sounds like a good chance for us to get our hands on an s-300

  • GRL

    Dithering would require some sort of action. I would say lack of action or impotency would more appropriate describe Obama and friends (this includes McCain, Graham, etc.).

  • Diggsc

    The transfer of these missiles is meaningless. Any AD systems requires trained, dedicated operators and maintainers. Syria has none of these. Having worked with the AD soldiers of three arab armies, two that directly border Syria, I can assure you that nothing in the fabric of arab armies lends itself to dependable operators and maintainers.

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