S-300 missiles arrival in Syria fuels tensions
Syrian President Bashar Assad. AP PhotoSyria has received the first shipment of Russian missiles that are part of a more sophisticated air defense system, known as S-300s, President Bashar al-Assad told Lebanon’s Hezbollah-owned TV channel, in a move that will fuel the already high tension.
Israel’s defense chief, Moshe Yaalon, said earlier this week that Russia’s plan to supply Syria with the weapons was a threat and that Israel was prepared to use force to stop the delivery.
The Al-Manar TV released al-Assad’s comments on the Russian missiles in print, through its breaking news service on May 30. “Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets,” the broadcaster quoted al-Assad as saying. “The rest of the shipment will arrive soon.”
The Syrian leader added: “All our agreements with Russia will be implemented and parts of them have already been implemented.” The interview was scheduled to be broadcast on Al-Manar late yesterday when the Daily News went into print. The shipment of the missiles, if confirmed, comes just days after the European Union lifted an arms embargo on Syria, paving the way for individual countries of the 27-member bloc to send weapons to rebels fighting to topple the regime.
Similar to Patriots
Russia, al-Assad’s most powerful ally, announced this week that it intended to honor its contract to supply the weapons, describing them as a “stabilizing factor” which could act as a deterrent against foreign intervention. The S-300s have a range of up to 200 kilometers and the capability to track and strike multiple targets simultaneously. They are similar to Patriots, which NATO has deployed on the Turkish border with war-torn Syria.
An Israeli minister said yesterday his country did not want to provoke a military “escalation” with Syria but would not allow it to transfer strategic arms to groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah. “There is no need to provoke an escalation, there is no need to heat up the border with Syria, that was not our objective and it will never be,” Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom told public radio. Asked about Moscow’s plans to supply S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, Shalom said they would only become a problem if they fell into the wrong hands. “Syria has had strategic weapons for years, but the problem arises when these arms fall into other hands and could be used against us. In that case, we would have to act,” he said.
In excerpts from the interview, the Syrian President was also quoted as saying: “The Syrian army has scored major victories against armed rebels on the ground and the balance of power is now with the Syrian army.”
“Hezbollah fighters are deployed along the Lebanese-Syrian borders but the operations are conducted by the Syrian army until the ‘terrorist’ groups are crushed,” he said, adding that Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement were co-operating, or “on the same axis.”
The Syrian President’s interview came as Foreign Minister Walid Muallem revealed that al-Assad would run for a third term in 2014 if the people wanted him to. He also added that any deal reached with the opposition would have to be put to a referendum.