Russians, Syrians discuss missile shield – initially for Tartus port
The Russian-Syrian discussions in progress in both their capitals cover the disposition of air defense S-300PMU-2 and Iskander-E missiles – to be deployed initially around Syria’s Mediterranean ports where Moscow is building naval bases.
debkafile‘s military and intelligence sources reveal that these two high-powered items have not been excluded from the big Russian-Syrian arms deal under discussion, despite appeals from Washington and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who made a special trip to Moscow for this purpose earlier this month.
As soon as he flew home, the foreign ministry spokesman in Moscow maintained ambiguously on Oct. 9 that Russia would not supply air defense systems to “volatile regions.” He said such decisions are based on regional security issues and “the need to maintain a balance of forces” in the region.
This was taken to mean that if weapons delivered to Israel were seen by Moscow as upsetting “the balance of forces,” Moscow would think again about withholding the S-300 and Iskander-E missiles.
Our Moscow sources disclose that the Russians now view the supply of the advanced American FBX-T anti-missile radar system to Israel in September and its deployment in the Negev base of Nevatim as a balance-breaker.
In the broader context of its contest with Washington, the Kremlin regards the US radar system installed in the Negev to be an integral part of the US missile shield deployed in the face of Russian protests in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow has already indicated it may hit back by moving nuclear-armed Iskander-E missiles to the Baltic opposite the US batteries deployed in East Europe.
Positioning missile systems at Syrian ports would be part of Russia’s overall military payback for the array of US missile and radar installations in Europe and the Middle East.
Therefore, debkafile‘s military sources report, the Kremlin may decide against handing the missiles to the Syrian army but prefer to install them to guard the Mediterranean naval bases Russians are building at the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia.
Another option would be to outfit the Russian warships to be anchored in Syria ports with S-300 missiles, which are already part of the weapons array of the Peter the Great missile cruiser, which carried out maneuvers in the Mediterranean last week.
In either case, Russian fingers would be on the controls of these batteries in the early stages of delivery.
At the same time, the big Russian arms deal in negotiation would substantially boost and upgrade Damascus’ war armory with some pretty impressive hardware, all paid for by Tehran:
1. Mig-29 M2 fighter-bombers
2. Mig-31 fighter-bombers.
3. Su-30 Flanker bombers.
4. Mobile Tor-M1 air defense missiles, like the ones sold to Iran. Iran and Syria are obviously integrating their air and missile defense systems with Russian hardware, further facilitating Moscow’s military expansion in the Middle East.
5. Pantsir-C air defense missiles.
6. Extensive Russian upgrades of Syria’s antiquated T-62, T-72 and T-80 tanks.
7. Upgrades of Syrian SA-5 Gammon, S-125 and Pechora-2A missiles.
8. Advanced ATM anti-tank missiles.
Last year, too, Iran forked out for Syria’s Russian arms acquisitions.
While some Israeli leaders, including president Shimon Peres, predicted that falling oil prices would inhibit the two radical allies’ arms shopping plans, our military sources note this paradox: Iran has scarcely been affected by the international financial crisis because international sanctions have long isolated its financial system from international banking and taught the Islamic republic to live with an economy on the ropes.