World Bulletin/News Desk
Russia has shipped an advanced antiship cruise missile to Syria, a move that illustrates the depth of its support for the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, American officials said on Thursday, New York Times reported.
Russia has previously provided Yakhont missiles, as the weapon is known, to Syria. But the missiles that were recently delivered are outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them far more accurate, according to American officials who are familiar with classified intelligence reports.
The new missile "contributes to Syria's overall military capabilities, but specifically it would tend to push Western or allied naval activity further off the coast," said Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official. He said the delivery was "a signal of the Russian commitment to the Syrian government."
The disclosure of the delivery comes as Russia and the United States are planning to convene an international conference aimed at ending the brutal conflict in Syria, which has killed more than 70,000 people. That conference is expected to be held in early June and to include representatives of the Assad government and the Syrian opposition.
Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly said that it is the United States' hope to change Mr. Assad's "calculations" about his ability to hold on to power so that arrangements can be negotiated for a transitional government to govern a post-Assad Syria. But the flow of Russian and Iranian arms to Syria, American officials have also said, has buttressed Mr. Assad's apparent belief that he can prevail militarily.
That could make it more difficult for the United States and its allies to impose a naval embargo, establish a no-fly zone or carry out airstrikes in support of the rebels if Western nations ever decided to intervene in the conflict. Russia, for example, previously shipped SA-17 surface-to-air missiles to Syria. Israel carried out an airstrike in January against trucks that were transporting the weapons near Damascus. Israel has not officially acknowledged the raid but has said it is prepared to intervene militarily to prevent any "game changing" weapons from being shipped to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group.
More recently, Israeli and American officials have urged Russia not to proceed with the sale of advanced S-300 air defense weapons. The Kremlin has yielded to American entreaties not to provide S-300's to Iran. But the denial of that sale, analysts say, has increased the pressure within Russia's military establishment to proceed with the sale to Syria. Unlike Syria's arsenal of Scud and other longer-range surface-to-surface missiles that the Assad government has fired against opposition forces, the Yakhont anti-ship missile system gives the Syrian military a formidable weapon to counter international forces seeking to reinforce Syrian opposition fighters by imposing a naval embargo, establishing a no-fly zone or carrying out limited airstrikes.
"It enables the regime to deter foreign forces looking to supply the opposition from the sea, or from undertaking a more active role if a no-fly zone or shipping embargo were to be declared at some point," said Nick Brown, editor in chief of IHS Jane's International Defense Review. "It's a real ship killer."
Syria ordered the coastal defense version of the Yakhont system from Russia in 2007 and received the first batteries in early 2011, according to Jane's. The initial order covered 72 missiles, 36 launcher vehicles and support equipment, and the systems have been displayed in the country.
The missile batteries are mobile, which makes them harder to attack. Each missile battery consists of missiles, a three-missile launcher and a command-and-control vehicle.
The Yakhont missiles, which are about 22 feet long and carry either a high-explosive or armor-piercing warhead, have a range of about 180 miles, according to Jane's.
The missiles can be steered to the target's general location by longer-range radars, but each missile has its own radar to help evade a ship's defenses and home in as it approaches its target.
Two senior American officials said that the most recent shipment contained missiles with a more advanced guidance system than earlier shipments.
One former senior American military official said that Russia was walking a fine line in delivering advanced weaponry like the Yakhonts under what Moscow says are existing contracts with the Assad government, and in holding back from striking any new weapons deals with the Syrian military.
Last Mod: 17 Mayıs 2013, 17:05