News / Middle East

Russian Missile Plan Chills Chances for Syrian No-Fly Zone

Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system is on display in an undisclosed location in Russia (file photo)Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system is on display in an undisclosed location in Russia (file photo)
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Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system is on display in an undisclosed location in Russia (file photo)
Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system is on display in an undisclosed location in Russia (file photo)
Analysts say it will be more difficult for the United States or other Western powers to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria if Russia goes ahead with the sale of anti-aircraft missiles to its ally Damascus.

Moscow said this week it plans to deliver the advanced S-300 air defense system to the embattled government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite objections by the U.S., France and Israel.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday the transfer will be a "stabilizing factor" and will deter what he called "some hotheads" from considering sending foreign forces to intervene in the Syrian conflict.

The surface-to-air missiles would represent a major upgrade over Syria's current air defenses and could challenge Western aircraft, said Ben MacQueen, a Middle East analyst at Australia's Monash University.

"The S-300 has the capacity to knock down cruise missiles as well as high-altitude planes," he said. "So the possession of the S-300 certainly does pose greater difficulties to a no-fly zone."

"It's not something that's likely to be a game changer in technical terms. If there were still a decision made to go ahead with a full-scale intervention, it's nothing that would repel those forces, but it changes the cost-benefit analysis for any sort of international coalition," said MacQueen.

The Obama administration has been reluctant to directly intervene in Syria. But some top U.S. lawmakers have been urging the White House to consider a no-fly zone to stop Syrian armed forces from carrying out air attacks that have killed a large number of both rebels and civilians during the over two-year-old conflict.

Russian officials are worried that a Western-imposed no-fly zone would end up like the one put in place by NATO over Libya in 2011, when longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown with the support of foreign air power.

"NATO went well beyond that mandate, essentially becoming the air force for the rebel army," said University of San Francisco Middle East Studies professor Stephen Zunes. "And [the Russians] don't want to see a repeat of that. They don't want to see Western powers trying to impose their will on what has historically been allied with the Russians."

But some say the S-300 itself would not necessarily make the U.S. more reluctant to intervene. Even if Moscow goes ahead with the long-delayed sale, it could take up to two years before Syrian forces are able to effectively use the advanced Russian missile system, according to Middle East analyst Jonathan Adelman of the University of Denver.

"The Syrians don't know how to operate the S-300, and there's no way they're going to learn how to do it in an area as chaotic as Syria. So they're going to have to go to Moscow," he said. "Then they've got to bring it back and try and secure a place, because it's going to be immediately a tremendous focus of attention for the rebels and for the jihadists."

Another issue to consider, said Adelman, is whether Israel would intervene to stop the transfer of the S-300, which could challenge the dominance of Israeli air power in the region. It could also provide cover for the Syrian government to transfer weapons to the pro-Assad Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Israel's defense minister on Tuesday hinted at military action if the missiles are delivered.

"I hope they will not leave. And if, God forbid, they reach Syria, we will know what to do," said Moshe Yaalon.

Adelman said he has little doubt that Israel would take out the Russian missile system if it felt threatened.

"It's way up in the air whether this [system] is every going get there. If it gets there, is it ever going to get functional or is it going to get taken out by the Israelis or by forces on the ground? So I would argue that it's quite a destabilizing thing," he said.

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by: Igor from: Russia
May 30, 2013 11:49 PM
The S300 is only used for defensive purposes. It is not for attacking any countries. Further more, only skillfull and well-trained experts can operate the system. So if it fell into the hands of any group like Hezbollah, they could do nothing with it. That's why Israel have nothing to worry about the transference of such system. Israel has not a single right to attack Syria only because it suspects that Syria is delivering some kind of weapon to Hezbollah. It is an absulutely absurd excuse. If our country applied the same excuse we could flatten Israel with nuclear attacks becase it posed a threat to your weapon markets.
In Response

by: Joe from: Texas
May 31, 2013 2:30 PM
Well said Igor. I don't understand when someone says dont do this because this is what they will do with the weapons. This is madness but it is okay to continue violating a countries sovereignty??? Absolutely crazy....we need a stabilizing force in the world. we need 3 super powers to keep things in check and maybe more

by: Cambodian & Aussie Victim from: Australia
May 30, 2013 5:22 AM
I hope Russians should help Syria current Government to defence NATO and the United State of America as they trouble maker

by: Proxy
May 29, 2013 12:09 PM
Russia wants to escalate the military threat in the region using Syria as its proxy against the West, perhaps to gain more influence in the region and control the straits of Hormuz, thereby controlling oil supplies amongst other things but at the same time to with a view to establish friendly ports for its submarine fleet.
In Response

by: Cody from: Florida
May 30, 2013 12:21 AM
Prxy your a fool. How can Russia possibly escalate things in the region when its sending s-300 missles. The Free Syrian army doesn't have an airforce those missles could be used against.

If anything russia is keeping the peace while foreign countries want to jump in and escalate things

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
May 29, 2013 8:54 AM
Quite destabilizing, you can say. Since experience is the best teacher, the Russians won't want a repeat of Libya. And even though Israel is threatening, I don't see it going to aggravate an already bad situation - that is to unite the muslim world against itself - for that would rather favor Iran, hamas and hezbollah than do Israel any good.

For sure there's no way a power like Russia is going to allow its defense system enter hezbollah's hand, but that is not to say the West is encouraged to go ahead with its planned no-fly-zone. For if Russia is serious with its relations to Syria, it will have to deploy the defense system with appropriate personnel to teach the Syrian army on ground while it is put into use. That way, the west may be coming head-on with Russia in real combat situation.

Do you envisage another global war possibility? Not likely. But a confrontation with Russia has been overdue - at least by Russia's reckoning. So who stands to gain or lose by this? What about the political solution on the table?
In Response

by: joe from: texas
May 31, 2013 2:34 PM
"sheik rattle and roll"

Have you been living in the mountains? you talk about russian weapons in the hands of terrorists but you don't talk about US weapons in the hands of the taliban and now those threatening mali
In Response

by: Sheik Rattle & Roll from: Planet Earth
May 29, 2013 9:59 AM
The last time I checked most weapons systems that are in use by Hezbollah are Russian made arms transferred by Syria. The missiles that are aimed at Israeli cities are Russian made. Russia has no control of it's arms when they leave Russian ports. Most terrorist use Russian made arms. Hezbollah is nothing but an Islamic terrorist group that is supported by Iran, Syria and lately Russia.

by: ema from: uk
May 29, 2013 8:36 AM
The EU dare not supply weapons falling without falling into the wrong hands. Russia’s dare not supply air to air missiles without causing rapid spread and escalation of violence.

Britain and France can definitively shift the balance against Assad; however the real question remains if they can ensure victory does not devolve into extremism.

Russia is already heavily supporting Assad, and the threat of missiles demonstrates its sheer desperation. It is clear to even the most simple minded that it would cause rapid escalation and leave no option but to enforce a no fly zone.
In Response

by: taruk from: usa
May 29, 2013 9:09 AM
Current events are best understood through history. Does anybody remember West misadventure in Caucasus. McCain twisted Israel elbow to supply advanced weaponry to Georgians. Well, weapons do not make worriers. Georgians tossed them and run like chickens, when they encounter russian troops. But russians have a very long memory and now the shoe is on the other foot. It is fascinating that McCain is leading the charge again. Please somebody tell him that Vietnam War is over.

by: riano baggy from: indonesia
May 29, 2013 7:41 AM
please make calm down, i think moscow and aliens must sit together not to sent a weapons to syria, we not like a new wall like berlin wall. Let UN and Arab League and syrian goverment and oposision have conference to get new solution.

by: Andrey from: Russia
May 29, 2013 6:24 AM
We will make missiles like sausages!

by: david lulasa from: tambua,gimarakwa,hamisi,v
May 29, 2013 5:52 AM
russia wants syria to end up being partitioned...and its all because of their blindness to see that the assads sect always controlling the couintry and government.

lulasa...the president

by: Lex from: Seattle
May 29, 2013 5:22 AM
I would love to see Israel strike a Russian convoy delivering these systems. It will be the end of Israel as we know it, and the middle east can finally move on with their lives.

Its one thing to threaten Iran, but threatening Russia typically ends bad according to recent history; well history in general. What's US going to do? Go extinct at the expense of the Israeli alliance?
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
May 29, 2013 9:04 AM
Hey, Lex! You must be fooling. Israel is not going to strike Russian convoy. Israel will strike Syrian site, that way Russia has no direct involvement but will rather love it because their market will only be expanding. But if you're looking for a superpower to fight with Israel to give you what you want, then wake up from your sleep - it's not going to happen - for even Russian is green with envy to take over protection of Israel from USA. That fags you? Check your history and don't just presume on some extremist Russian muslims to think Russia wants a war with Israel.
In Response

by: Jim from: Ohio
May 29, 2013 8:26 AM
Think of the money we would save when these leeches were gone! We might actually be able to afford to upgrade our aging infrastructure, and care for our aging population.

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