Moscow Arms Assad with a Top-Flight Surface Missile

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Two generals were in Moscow on the same day, September 26: the head of Israel’s National Security Council Maj.-Gen (Res.) Giora Eiland and the Syrian chief of staff General Ali Habib. Both also called on the Russian chief of staff, Gen. Yuri Baluyevski. The Syrian general came out of his meeting with a brilliant contract for the sale of the advanced Iskander SS-26 surface missile. The Israeli general ran into a blank wall when he tried to persuade the Russian to withhold the missile from the Assad regime. Last January, when the deal was first broached, the Bush administration stepped in and obtained a promise from president Vladimir Putin to call off the sale, as did Israel’s Ariel Sharon during the Russian president’s visit in May.
Putin has broken those pledges.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 224 revealed in its detailed report on September 30 –
For a speedy delivery in the first quarter of 2006, the Syrians paid cash.
The value of the transaction is unknown but it certainly runs into hundreds of million dollars, given that Syria has purchased 26 of the most advanced missile of its kind in use anywhere in the world.
The United States and NATO have code-named the Iskander SS-26 “Stone.” They have nothing in their missile arsenal to match its unique attributes.
With a 400-km range and a 480-kilo warhead composed of 54 elements, the missile hits a target within a 20-meter radius. Two missiles with a range of 280km are mounted on each launch pad. The system can be used against small and large targets alike, easily overcoming air defenses. It is almost impossible for existing electronic weapons systems to prevent the Iskander’s launch because of its speed and high flexibility. Its targets are found in mid-flight by satellites, accompanying airplanes, conventional intelligence centers or a lone soldier directing artillery fire. Targets may also be found by feeding photos into the missile’s computer by means of a scanner.
The self-direction device functions even in fog, darkness or storms. The name Iskander is Alexander (the Great) in the Turkoman language. Weighing 3,800 kilos it is operated by a crew of three. It comes in two versions: the 500-kilo version provided the Russian Army and the 280-kilo missile sold to Syria.
So impressive is the Russian “Stone”, that in 2004, the Americans sought to include it in various treaties signed with Russia for precluding the manufacture and sale of certain weapons. Moscow balked. A Western missile expert says: “Even a small quantity of these missiles is capable of radically changing the balance of strength in local conflicts.” It is a strategic weapon for countries with a small area like Syria.
Nine months ago, on January 12, 2005, Moscow “leaked” the news of a big new arms deal with Syria that included the following missiles: the Iskander SS-26, SA-10 Grumble ground-to-air, and SA-18 Grouse (Igla 9K38) shoulder-launched anti-air missiles capable of hitting objects at an altitude of 3,600 meters and range of 5,200 meters.
Israeli raised the ceiling over this transaction as radically shifting the balance of strength between the Jewish state and Syria. Washington embarked on a quiet diplomatic dialogue to deter Damascus from acquiring the new hardware, maintaining it posed a threat to the US army in Iraq.
After weeks of palaver and pressure, president Vladimir Putin and defense minister Sergei Ivanov relented and promised Washington and Jerusalem to withhold the Iskander SS-26 from Syria. The other items would have their aggressive options “neutered” and rendered fit for defensive use alone.
It is now clear that Putin’s promise to the Americans and Israelis to withhold the missile’s sale was no more than a time-winning ploy until an opportunity presented itself to go through with the transaction.
debkafile‘s military experts add four points:
1. Assad had need of a sop to his armed forces if he intends to go through with the exercise DEBKA revealed earlier, to follow in Muammar Qaddafi’s footsteps and make his peace with Washington. The Syrian ruler will demonstrated that he is the only Middle East leader capable of providing his army with a weapons system as sophisticated Iskander SS-22. This may divert the generals from plotting to overthrow him if he throws some of his top security officers to the wolves over the Hariri assassination.
2. Putin’s motivation in breaking his promises to Bush and Sharon is his fundamental urge to show Washington and Paris they are not the only players in the Middle East and Syrian-Lebanese arena. He hopes by the missile sale to prevent the Assad regime from collapsing.
3. The Bush administration refrained from interceding in the deal this because, as DEBKA revealed before, the White House has not yet decided finally whether to finally topple Assad or let him survive. Washington’s silence on the missile sale points to the latter option.
4. Israel’s failure to stop the delivery even after the kudos Sharon collected over the pullout from Gaza means that the country’s basic security situation and international influence remain unchanged by the sacrifice of its strategic presence in Gaza.
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