Syria Says It Has Recieved Russian Air Defense Missiles

The Syrian government is claiming that it has received delivery of the Russian air defense missiles I wrote about yesterday:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said in a television interview to be broadcast on Thursday that Russia has delivered S-300 air defense missiles to his country, weapons that Israel has said present a threat to its security and against which it is willing to use force.

“Syria has received the first shipment of Russian antiaircraft S-300 rockets,” Mr. Assad said in the interview, to be broadcast on Al Manar, the television channel of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which in recent weeks has dramatically increased its military intervention in Syria on the side of Mr. Assad’s government. “The rest of the shipment will arrive later today.”

Russian officials had said earlier this week that the country would deliver the weapons to Syria, a move that Mr. Assad’s opponents said was a sign that neither Russia nor the Syrian government was serious about proposed negotiations to end the Syrian civil war that Russia and the United States are trying to organize for as early as next month.

The interview with Mr. Assad was taped on Tuesday, according to the Beirut news director of Iran’s English-language Press TV. That same day, Israel’s defense minister declared categorically that the missile systems had not yet been delivered.

A senior Israeli official said on Thursday that the S-300 missile systems “do not just come in a box” and that different elements would probably be delivered in stages. It was possible, he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic constraints, that some parts had arrived in Syria, but he added that there was no indication at this stage that the systems were anywhere near operational.

Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue of the arms sales with the Russians, even as he and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, are trying to arrange a meeting between the Assad government and the rebels. Asked about the missiles and Israeli warnings that the deliveries of them would pose a threat to Israel, the State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said on Wednesday: “We support Israel’s ability to defend themselves, certainly, but we remain hopeful and remain committed to working towards a political transition. And that’s what our focus is here on Syria, and we remain concerned about the overflow impacts of the events that are happening on the ground.”

The Syrian government and the opposition have hardened their positions in recent days, casting doubt on the future of the proposed talks as each side declared a starting point that is thoroughly unacceptable to the other.

On Wednesday, the Syrian opposition said that Mr. Assad’s departure was a prerequisite of talks — a condition his government and Russia reject — while Syria’s foreign minister said that Mr. Assad would stay on at least until 2014 and might seek re-election and that any peace agreement would have to be approved by a referendum.

Mr. Assad’s statements — and the choice of the Hezbollah channel to deliver them — added to the confrontational atmosphere. His statements were first reported in the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar and confirmed by Ali Rizk, who performed the simultaneous translation of the interview to be broadcast on Iran’s Press TV.

Of course, we don’t know if the system is operational yet, or indeed if all the components have arrived. Nonetheless, as I noted yesterday, this is likely to heighten tensions in the area as a whole.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    If true, that tends to rule out what some were suggesting yesterday: that Russia was bluffing. I continue to think that Russia’s view is that Assad stays and they’re willing to back that up. How that can be reconciled with the prerequisite that Assad goes, which if we support the opposition we’re implicitly supporting, I have no idea.

    We should be cautious that we’re not facing an “assassination of Archduke Ferdinand” situation in Syria.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Come now. Are you suggesting that we have an inherently volatile region of the world, a declining but still powerful empire, an arms race, religious grievances, frustrated nationalistic aspirations, paranoia and a series of overt and covert alliances that can. . . Oh.

    Hey, at least we got some interesting literature out of the last one.

  3. David D. from Philly says:

    Russia has not confirmed Assad’s claim that missiles have been delivered. Also, these are sophisticated systems that require training to operate. According the FT:

    Even if the delivery were to take place, said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow defence think-tank, it would take a year to train the Syrian crews in Russia to operate the missile system.

    Mr Evseev added that the anti-aircraft missiles would also require Russian specialists to service the weaponry. If Israel followed through on threats to strike the newly delivered weapons, Russians could be killed or injured. “Russia does not want to be dragged into this conflict,” said Mr Evseev.

    I doubt the Russians would send Russian crews under Syrian commanders to man the weapons until the Syrian crews got up to speed. It seems likely that Assad is lying to create FUD.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I can see it now: the modern day young adult equivalent of A Farewell to Arms.

  5. legion says:

    It was possible, he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic constraints, that some parts had arrived in Syria, but he added that there was no indication at this stage that the systems were anywhere near operational.

    That actually sounds pretty plausible. I could totally see Assad grandstanding on TV about the powerful phallic symbols he now has, without the slightest understanding of how to assemble or use them (either literally or figuratively). Politicians are the same, all the world over. I’m really interested to see how the Israelis respond to this. I am even more glad I don’t live there…

  6. walt moffett says:

    According to Ria Novosti, maybe things are not what they appear. Assad may have been misquoted, they can be shipped, no one will say they were or weren’t.

    The Great Game continues.

  7. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Yeah. Most recently, I thought the HBO film of Parade’s End was really brilliant.