The New York Times US daily reported Friday that Russia has sent advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, a move that illustrates the depth of its support for the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad.
"Russia has previously provided a version of the missiles, called Yakhonts, to Syria. But those delivered recently are outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective," according to American officials who are familiar with classified intelligence reports and would only discuss the shipment on the basis of anonymity.
Unlike Scud and other longer-range surface-to-surface missiles, the Yakhont antiship missile system provides the Syrian military a formidable weapon to counter any effort by international forces 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 batteries are mobile, which makes them more difficult to attack. Each consists of missiles, a three-missile launcher and a command-and-control vehicle.
The missiles are about 22 feet long, carry either a high-explosive or armor-piercing warhead, and have a range of about 180 miles, according to Jane's.
They can be steered to a 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.
In a separate report on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal cited US and European officials as saying that Russia sent at least a dozen warships to its Tartus naval base in Syria, in a move partly meant to send a message to "Israel" and the West not to intervene militarily in the country.
"It is a show of force. It's muscle flexing," the Journal quoted a senior US official as saying. "It is about demonstrating their commitment to their interests."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Moscow planned to go ahead with its shipment of S- 300 missiles to Syria, saying the deal had been sealed before the "Israeli" recent air strikes on Syria, r.
"Missile defense systems are delivered to protect the country that buys them from air strikes. But these contracts were signed long before air strikes on Syria were launched last year and now," Lavrov said in an interview with Lebanon's al-Mayadeen TV channel.
He further stressed that "Moscow is honoring previous agreements and has not signed any new contracts with Damascus."
"Those who do not plan aggressive actions against a sovereign state have nothing to worry about, because air defense methods - and this is clear from the name - are a purely defensive system required to repel air attacks," Lavrov said.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by moqawama.org