Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad claimed earlier today on Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV that he has received the first shipment of S-300 ground to air missiles from Russia today. However, the media is now less certain as to whether as to whether or not the missiles have been sent from Russia yet. This is an event likely to trigger reactions from international players across the globe.
Here is what you need to know.
1. The Russian S-300's Are Built to Shoot Down Planes
The S-300's were originally a Soviet design and a major attribute of the Red Army. The missiles were designed to be some of the most effective anti-aircraft weapons in the world.
2. They Pose a Major Threat to the Revolution
With the Assad regime in possession of effective anti-aircraft weaponry, the outgunned rebel forces with face even larger problems. Planes attempting to airlift supplies to the rebel forces, as well as the rebel forces themselves will potentially find themselves at risk of these powerful and long-range missiles.
3. They Would Potentially Pose a Threat to Israel
As you can see, there is a substantial border between Israel and Syria. Damascus itself is only about 60 miles from the closest city in Israel. According to scientific reports on the S-300, the missile has a range of around 75 km, putting some Israeli targets well in the range of Assad's new firepower. This is especially troubling to the Israeli government because of the close ties between the Assad regime and the anti-Israeli organization Hezbollah.
4. Israel Said They Could Retaliate
In a heated exchange yesterday, Israel said that if the Russian missiles reached the Assad regime there could be a response of some kind. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Tuesday that if the missiles were to arrive in Syria it would be treated as a "threat." The Israeli publication Haaretz quotes Ya'alon as saying:
The shipments haven’t set out yet and I hope they won’t. If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we’ll know what to do.
There is no word yet as to what Israel's response will be to the news of the missiles arrival and we will be covering it closely as the day goes on.
5. Russia Sent the Missiles Based on Contracts
The Russian government has been defending its actions by reiterating that they are merely fulfilling a contract made with Syria as far back as 2007. Russian new source the RT claimed back in 2011 that the contract was for around $300 million and provided Syria with a number of different weapons systems.
6. Russia Has Been a Friend of Assad
Vladimir Putin has been the subject of much world criticism over his relationship to Syrian President Assad. There has been much speculation as to why Russia's Putin has continued to support the Assad regime in spite of world opinion, one report echoes the majority of assumptions saying:
The real reason Putin is unlikely to bend on Syria – ultimately forcing Western powers to find a way to bypass the Russian roadblock – has to do with Putin’s own vision of himself as the sentinel of a mighty Russia that doesn’t take moral lessons from the West.
7. Syria Said it Will Respond to an Israeli Attack
This morning as news of the missiles arrival in Syria began to surface, Russian news outlet RT reported that if Israel attempted to an act of aggression against Syria, the Syrian army promised to "immediately react." In an ominous after-thought Assad added:
The Syrian government will not interfere if some kind of Syrian group starts a war to liberate the Golan Heights
8. After the Appeal of the EU Embargo, the Rebels Will Have More Arms
The weapons embargo that prevented nations in the European Union from sending arms and ammunition to Rebel forces in Syria will be allowed to expire on August 1st. This means members of the EU who oppose the Assad regime will now be able to send weapons to the rebel army. Although no nations have committed to doing so yet, the European Union hoped the expiration of the embargo might have been enough to intimidate Assad into peace talks.
9. The Conflict Will Likely Get Worse
Bulletin | Syrian Opposition Widens Coalition; Peace Talks in Jeopardy as Both Sides Entrench Positions; Russian Missiles Arrive in #Syria
— Syria Deeply (@SyriaDeeply) May 30, 2013
With both sides now potentially receiving stable supplies to state-of-the-art weaponry, the civil war in Syria, as well as a potential conflict with Israel, may threaten the region with even more instability and bloodshed.
10. The Interview Was Assad Will be On Television Today
Assad was interviewed today on Al-manar Lebanese TV at 9 p.m. local time (18:00 GMT). In the interview Assad seemed more ambiguous than he was earlier today. The AP reports:
Assad also told the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar that Russia has fulfilled some of its weapons contracts recently, but he was vague on whether this included advanced S-300 air defense systems.
You can read the entire transcript of the interview with Assad here.