A military expert has described reports that Russia has supplied Syria with S-300s missiles as a political maneuver, adding that the intended deal was for Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missiles. The source added that this is a part of an old military deal between the two countries, with Syria acting as the middle-man, and Iran as the final destination.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that Moscow was putting the final touches to hand over defense missiles to Syria.
Lavrov said that Moscow has no new plans to sell a sophisticated air defense system to Syria. However, he left the door open for the likelihood of sending such systems to Damascus in accordance with standing contracts.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Israeli government informed the United States about an imminent Russian deal to sell anti-aircraft missiles of the 300-S type to the government of Bashar Al-Assad.
Speaking at a press conference in Poland, Lavrov said, “Russia does not intend to sell; Russia actually sold them a long time ago. It signed contracts and is finalizing the operations to hand over the equipment consisting of anti-aircraft technology in accordance with contracts that had been agreed upon.”
Lavrov did not specific whether the equipment being actually handed over is indeed the sophisticated 300-S systems or another air defense systems.
The Russian minister added that this hand-over is in accordance with international law and that the equipment is designed for defensive purposes only, adding, “As the importing country, the equipment is intended to provide Syria with a system to protect itself from air attacks, which is quite a likely scenario”.
Commenting on the weapons deal, a Gulf official familiar with the Syrian file hoped Russia would reconsider arming the Assad regime, adding, “The Russian stance is perplexing in view of the killing and destruction that the tyrannical Syrian regime is perpetrating. Unfortunately, this stance will impact adversely on Russia’s future interests in Syria and in the region”.
Moreover, an official Turkish source refused to tie the deployment of Western Patriot missiles in Turkey to the Russian missiles deal with Syria. The official said that the goal is to protect Turkish territories from any “stupid actions” that some may contemplate.
The source also stressed that Iran’s concerns regarding Turkey are unjustified. “Although we differ with it, we are determined to keep the relationship with our neighbors at its best level,” the source added.
However, a Turkish strategic expert believes that “everything is possible.” He added that Turkey is waging an indirect war with the Syrian regime in many areas and a cold confrontation with Iran and Russia. He said that economic interests and the concern about a likely war act as a deterrent to prevent sliding into a worse situation in Iran. The expert added that the exposure of Iranian cells in Turkey showed Turkish officials beyond any doubt that Iran is worried about the network of Patriot missiles and that it is doing its best to avert an Israeli or American military strike.
A source in the Syrian armed opposition told Asharq Al-Awsat that the regime did indeed receive Russian missile batteries. He said that training is actually underway for such missile operators, who will be placed at first under the supervision of Russian experts. Iranian experts are also participating in the training. The source added that the information reaching the opposition says that at least one such missile battery has arrived and been installed in the Syrian coastal region. The second batch will be installed in other locations, particularly Damascus.
According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the Pantsir S-1 missiles are among the most advanced air defense systems available, and the deal to sell them goes back to 2006 as part of an arms deal amounting to USD 1 billion. The contract stipulates that the handover should begin in August 2007. According to the US magazine, Iran is the primary sponsor of the Russian deal with Syria and is using Syria as a middle-man to procure the missile system. The arms deal includes 50 missile systems. Iran was set to receive at least 10 of these systems in the beginning of 2008, but the deal was delayed.