The New York Times reports on Russia sending “advanced antiship cruise missiles to Syria”, noting that
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.”
Haaretz puts it succinctly:
The presence of these systems in Syria will make it more difficult (but not impossible) for Israel or any Western army to carry out air strikes on Syrian targets or to bombard or invade it by sea.
The U.S. isn’t too crazy about this, as Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed:
“I think we’ve made it crystal clear we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance,” he said. “That hasn’t changed.”
American officials have been concerned that the flow of Russian and Iranian arms to Syria will buttress Mr. Assad’s apparent belief that he can prevail militarily.
Yes, prevail militarily against any U.S. military intervention seeking to overthrow him.
Haaretz also reports:
On Friday, the top American military officer said a Russian shipment of anti-ship missiles to Syria could embolden President Bashar Assad’s forces and prolong the conflict.
“It’s at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering, so it’s ill-timed and very unfortunate,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Dempsey said he was referring specifically to the anti-ship missiles sent by Russia.
How, exactly, could Syria possessing these anti-ship missiles prolong the conflict? The armed rebels seeking to overthrow the Assad regime, after all, don’t have ships. How perfectly devilish of the Assad regime to act in a way that could prolong the conflict if the U.S. decided to send in its military to overthrow it!
And then there is this response from Senator Bob Corker:
“This weapons transfer is obviously disappointing and will set back efforts to promote the political transition that is in the best interests of the Syrian people and the region,” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement on Thursday night. “There is now greater urgency for the U.S. to step up assistance to the moderate opposition forces who can lead Syria after Assad.”
Thus, Syria acquiring a means to defend itself against a U.S. military intervention serves as a pretext for increasing U.S. support for the rebels seeking to overthrow the Syrian government, and responsibility for any consequent prolongation of the conflict must therefore fall squarely on the Assad regime.