The bloody mess in Syria became even more potentially chaotic Wednesday with Russia’s angry announcement that it will supply Syrian President Bashar Assad with S-300 missile systems, and Israel promptly said it ”knows what to do” to keep the weapons out of use.
The sale of the missiles, which are considered one of the world’s most advanced air defense systems, is a key card in the dangerous game pitting Russia and Assad against Israel and Western powers which have stated that Assad must go while fearful of which terrorists might replace him.
The European Union took what might have been the worst decision possible Tuesday, declaring that it will lift an arms embargo for rebels but at the same time will not directly ship weapons to the opposition forces.
Russia, which supposedly was convinced by Israel earlier this month to hold off the sale of the missiles to Assad, immediately announced it will ship them to the Syrian regime.
Even more tragic, Moscow assured the world that arming Assad with the missiles will actually contain the chaos because it will serve as a warning for “hotheads considering scenarios in which the conflict may assume an international scale with the participation of outside forces.”
The missiles easily could down a commercial airline inside Israel, so what happens if Hezbollah gets its hands on the missiles, or if the rebels get a hold of them?
Guess who will be in the crosshairs.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon answered that question within hours after the Syrian announcement, warning that Israel ”knows what to do” if the S-300 missiles reach Syria. Israel earlier this year bombed Russian-made SA-17 missiles that Syria was shipping to Hezbollah, and Ya’alon suggested the same fate awaits the SA-300 missiles.
Assad has wanted the missiles for a long time. Russia has wanted to fatten its treasury with the sale of the weapons and also is desperate to keep its investment in Syria from going up in smoke.
Russia’s announcement of the sale also made the London Sunday Times look stupid. It reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin in a recent visit to cancel the sale. The next day, Britain proudly announced that Russia would indeed not sell them to Assad.
On Tuesday, the European Union angered Russia by declaring an end to the arms embargo, prompting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to announce the sale of the missiles.
Ya’alon immediately responded to Russia’s claim of the sale of the missiles by stating, “If God forbid, they reach Syria, we will know what to do.”
The mess in Syria has had a diplomatic parallel. No one really knows the truth from a lie anymore, and even Ryabkov said, “I can neither confirm, nor deny in what stage these deliveries are at.”
It is even legitimate to ask whether Russia actually will deliver the missiles or if it just rattling sabers.
The problem for Israel, and the world, is that Russia is interested in money and power more than regional stability. It is Assad’s biggest arms supplier, with current contracts worth $1.5 billion.
If Assad goes, not only does Moscow lose a lot of money but it also loses a base of influence in the Middle East.