On Dec. 5, the first American, Dutch and German Patriot missiles landed in Turkey.
Within hours, three Russian warships had put into Syria’s Tartus port – the Novocherkassk and Saratov landing craft and the MB-304 supply vessel. Aboard were 300 marines. And not only fighting men. They also delivered a fearsome weapon for Assad’s army and a game changer in the Syrian conflict: 24 Iskander 9K720 (NATO codenamed SS-26 Stone) cruise missile systems, designed for theater level conflicts.
While NATO unpacked the Patriots in Turkey, a dozen mobile batteries, each carrying a pair of Iskander missiles, were fixed into position opposite Turkey, and another dozen, opposite Jordan and Israel.
At all their stations, the Russian missiles pointed at US military targets.
So while the West was gripped with alarm over Assad’s poison sarin gas shells and bombs and gearing up for missile attacks on Turkey, the Russians were injecting into the Syrian war field the most sophisticated weapon of death thus far.
The West and Israel have no answer for the Iskander’s hypersonic speed of more than 1.3 miles per second with a 280 mile-range and a 1,500-pound warhead which destroys targets with pinpoint accuracy. It is also nuclear-capable.
Russian President Vladimir Putin promised two US presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, not to let the Iskander reach the hands of Syria or Iran.
Moscow has no illusions that once in Syria, the lethal cruise missile will pretty soon reach Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Saturday, Dec. 15, Iran’s chief of staff Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi warned that the Patriot missiles in Turkey portended world war. He was referring to the missile-versus-missile face-off in Syria .
By giving Assad the Iskanders, Moscow has plumped itself squarely in the Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah camp, whereas President Obama is carefully holding back from an unreserved commitment to the Syrian insurgency.
Some Western circles see Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian conflict as presaging Bashar Assad’s early downfall. The reality, according to debkafile’s sources, is that before he falls, the Syria ruler is getting ready for desperate measures – first by unleashing chemical warfare and, after that, using the deadly Iskanders for a last throw against his enemies.