Tuesday night, Nov. 22, a few hours after three Russian naval vessels deployed opposite the Syrian coast and set up a land communications command at the Russian naval base at Tartus, Syrian President Bashar Assad phoned the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and thanked him for sending the Russian ships.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and Moscow sources report that Assad also thanked Medvedev for two Russian arms shipments newly airlifted to Damascus from Russia. They carried Pantsir-S1 (NATO codenamed "SA-22 Greyhound") missiles as well as SSN-26 Yakhont anti-ship missiles.
Pantsir-S1 is the most advanced combined short- to medium-range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon available on the world market. It has a maximum range of 20,000 meters and, with altitudes of up to 15,000 meters, can effectively target all types of aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles and air-to-ground precision guided weapons, as well as providing defense against stealth aircraft.
The Yakhont, using a liquid-fuel ramjet, covers a distance of 300 kilometers at speeds of over 2,000 kilometers per hour, using a high altitude cruise missile capable of a low-altitude approach.
Traveling entirely at low altitude, its range is reduced to 120 kilometers. Upon landing at the target area, Yakhont switches on its radar and goes for the kill.
The two weapons systems are the Russian and Syrian answers to the many threats and proposals for cutting the Assad regime down by no-fly zones in Syria, particularly over military bases, airfields and Syrian government centers, and a naval blockade against the import of arms weapons and riot dispersal for the Syrian army and security forces.
The Pantsir-S1 for aerial ambushes of fighter jets
Wednesday, Nov. 23, France came forward with a proposal to create "humanitarian corridors" in Syria for Syrian refugees and rebels to flee safely to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
The Syrian ruler has made it clear to his associates, and even hinted as much to Medvedev, that he would devote everything he had to thwarting the plots against him.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report a new operational plan developed by the Syrian general staff to use the Pantsir-S1 for anti-aircraft missile ambushes to take down any Arab or Turkish fighter jets trying to defend any "corridors."
The Syrian regime will use the Yakhont missiles to break a naval embargo on Syria. "I'm not Qaddafi," Bashar Assad told his aides last weekend, in a reference to the former Libyan ruler's decision not to fire the anti-aircraft missiles in his arsenal against NATO fighter jets. "Anyone hurting Syria," he said, "will be hurt himself and should take this into account."
In an unprecedented piece of saber-rattling, Medvedev stated on Russian television on Wednesday, Nov. 23: "I have ordered the armed forces to develop measures to ensure, if necessary, that we can destroy the command and control systems of the US missiles shield."
He stressed that "Russia would deploy its Iskander strike missiles in the southern Krasnodar region and Kaliningrad region," which borders Poland and Lithuania.
Some of the hardware will reach Iran, the bankroller
The Kremlin customarily links the placement of Iskander missiles in the Baltic Sea region to their deployment in the Middle East and Syria.
The Iskander is a tactical ballistic missile. It is designed for conventional warheads, but can be fitted with tactical nuclear warheads for engaging small and area targets (both moving and stationary), such as hostile fire weapons, air and anti-missile defense weapons, command posts and communications nodes and troops in concentration areas.
The system can therefore destroy both active military units and targets thereby degrading an enemy's ability to wage war. The Iskander can operate in hostile active countermeasures environments. As well as in-flight automatic computation of missions, the missile is endowed with high tactical maneuverability and strategic mobility owing to its transportability by all types of transport.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources note that since Iran pays for all of Syria's Russian hardware, it is very likely that some of these sophisticated weapons systems will find their way from Syria to arsenals of Iran's Revolutionary guards and its Lebanese proxy, Hizballah.