Hours after the first American, Dutch and German Patriot batteries were installed on the Turkish-Syrian border, two Russian landing ships, the Novocherkassk and Saratov escorted by the MB-304 supply vessel, sailed into the Syrian port of Tartus, part of the Black Sea Fleet’s naval task force cruising opposite Syrian shores since Nov. 24. Russian spokesmen claimed the three ships had stopped by for minor repairs and water.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources reveal here for the first time that they had come to deliver for Bashar Assad’s armed forces a supply of 24 Iskander-9K720 mobile tactical cruise missile batteries (NATO codenamed SS-26) for use in “theater level conflicts.”
By the time the Patriots were in place, 5 mobile batteries, each holding a pair of Iskander missiles, were parked on the Syrian border and aimed directly at US and Turkish military targets. Another 5 were installed on Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan opposite US military targets in both countries.
Syrian crews are able to take the controls of the Iskanders without delay having undergone special training courses the Russians conducted for them in the last three years.
Our military sources describe the Iskander 9K720’s exceptional capabilities for accuracy, range and reliability in penetrating defenses as presenting an alternative approach to precision-bombing. This is useful when air forces are prevented by superior fighters and air defenses from conducting dependable bombing or cruise missile missions.
Locks onto target at supersonic speed
Each battery has two solid propellant, single-stage guided missiles – model 9M723K1. Each missile is controlled through its entire flight path, is fitted with a non-separable warhead and can be independently targeted in seconds.
Targets may be located by satellite, aircraft, a conventional intelligence center, a soldier directing artillery fire or from aerial photos scanned into its computer.
The missiles can be re-targeted in flight for engaging moving objects.
Another unique feature is the optically guided warhead which can also be controlled by encrypted radio transmissions, including messages from AWACS or drones.
The missile’s computer receives images of the target, then locks onto it at supersonic speed.
Weighing 4,615 kilos, each missile carries a warhead of 710-800 kilos, has a range of 400-480 kilometers and can maneuver in flight at different altitudes and trajectories. To evade anti-ballistic missiles, the Iskander can pull up to 20-30 G.
Preparations to intervene against Assad’s chemical arms are halted
This sophisticated, powerful Russian weapon raises Syrian military capabilities to a new level as a game-changer.
Following its delivery, US Middle East units, Turkey, Israel and Jordan, and other Western and Arab armies have abruptly discontinued their preparations for military intervention in Syria over Assad’s reported intention to resort to chemical warfare. The US, Turkish, Israel, Jordanian, French and British forces on battle preparedness since last week were ordered to stand down.
None of those armies has an answer for the Russian Iskander. Indeed, it is not even sure if the West’s most advanced missile defenses systems – the American Aegis and THAAD for high altitude area defense – or Israel’s Arrow 2 anti-missile missile are a match for the Russian cruise missile, which travels at hypersonic speed of over 1.3 miles per second (March 6-7) and whose 1.500-pound warhead can destroy large targets with pinpoint accuracy.
Up until now, the United States, Turkey and Israel have managed to keep the arrival of the Russian cruise missile in Syria under wraps. Even when the Iranian Mashregh, the Revolutionary Guards website for international affairs, mentioned it Sunday, Dec. 9, the story was not picked up by any Western or Middle Easter media. The general public has been kept unaware of this major turn of events in the Syrian conflict.
For a while, running accounts of Assad’s poison gas stocks – some of them disinformation – and Western preparations to stop him vanished of the front pages.
Scuds become disposable after the Iskander’s delivery
Tuesday, Dec. 1, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stepped in to forestall questions without giving the game away when he said on a flight to Kuwait: “US and allied action against Syria over chemical weapons appears to be lessening.”
He went on to say: “We haven’t seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way,” adding that US officials “continue to monitor it very closely and we continue to make clear to them that they should not under any means make use of these chemical weapons against their own population.”
If they do, Panetta warned, “That would produce serious consequences.”
This comment did at least give Washington the last word on the chemical weapons issue before it faded into the background of yet another troubling escalation from the perennial rogue North Korea.
However, shortly after Pyongyang launched its first long-range three-stage ballistic Unha-3 rocket, Assad added to the confusion by firing Scuds at rebel areas, thereby testing American threats of “serious consequences” for extreme measures.
This was a new and dangerous departure, since the Russian-made Scuds are capable of carrying chemical warheads.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that until now Assad kept his deadly Scuds in reserve as a last resort, but felt able to bring them out after receiving the powerful Iskander missiles from Moscow.
Obama and Netanyahu freeze
In Pyongyang meanwhile, Kim Jong Un and his advisers had been keeping an eye on US and Russian maneuvers in Syria, before choosing the right moment for launching their three stage Unha-3 rocket from the Sohae Space Center carrying the first North Korean satellite Kwangmyongson-3 into orbit.
The North Korean team was supported by a group of Iranian rocket and space experts, who had been on hand for the launching since mid-November.
Pretexts offered for the test’s delay – a snowstorm, then technical snags – were deliberate red herrings for putting the Americans and Japanese off guard. When the young North Korean leader judged that President Barack Obama was in no position to deliver on his threat of “serious consequences,” he ordered the Unha-3’s launch.
It took place just a week after the Iskander was delivered to Syria. Yet although President Obama found himself jammed between two grave new missile threats, both involving Iran, and his Middle East policies unraveling fast, he held back from a proactive response.
In Jerusalem, Binyamin Netanyahu followed in Obama’s footsteps and abstained from striking out against the deployment of the high-performance Russian Iskander missiles on Israel's northern border, despite the elevated strategic threat it poses.
Tehran cocksure of running circles around Washington at nuclear talks
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda vowed Friday, Dec. 7, to order the Japanese military to intercept any North Korean missile or debris falling toward Japanese territory. Our sources report that his words covered a smooth cop-out from direct action, since there was no danger of the missile or its debris falling on Japan.
But the fact remains that Kim Jong-un’s missile did fly over Japanese territory and the big American Pacific air and sea base at Okinawa and no attempt was made to intercept it.
With the Obama administration in stationary mode on all these crisis fronts, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton understandably avoided putting in an appearance at the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Marrakesh Morocco, Wednesday, Dec. 12.
She knew that all Washington meant to offer the rebels was President Obama’s commitment, relayed to the Marrakesh forum, to formally recognize the exiled umbrella of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”
The forces fighting Assad knew these words would slide ineffectually past Bashar Assad – especially since he acquired the deadly Iskander cruise missile, which drastically shifted the strategic balance of strength in his favor and to their detriment.
Obama’s unwillingness to place a firm hand on the steering wheel in these fast-moving situations will be sized up as weakness by Iran, with disastrous effects on the nuclear talks taking place secretly at a Geneva lakeside villa in Switzerland since Dec. 1.
Next week, the Iranians will arrive for the next round of talks freshly energized by the US failure to challenge Assad’s acquisition of the Russian Iskander and North Korea’ launch of a long-range ballistic missile alike. Tehran is cocksure that both these assets are destined to fall in its lap.