Russian-made S-300 antiaircraft missile launchers, considered one of the most advanced aerial defense systems in the world, have started arriving in Syria. Butcher Assad apparently gave an interview to Hezbollah’s TV station announcing that the first shipment of the weapons had arrived. The Israeli government, which sees the S-300s as a direct threat to national security, is ramping up its threats in response.
If these missile systems become operational, Israel’s “entire airspace will become a no-fly zone” and therefore it “cannot stand idly by,” Prime Mister Netanyahu told European foreign ministers, according to Haaretz. His National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror said the transfer of the S-300s to Syria was a “red line,” and that if the missiles reach their destination, “Israel will know what to do.”
“We understood from Amidror that the Israeli government thinks the missile transfer cannot be prevented, therefore it will act against them after the transfer but before they become operational,” an unnamed diplomat told Haaretz. According to experts, the Russian S-300s take time to assemble, and the Syrian crews that will eventually man them need training. This process could take between three and six months.
As our colleague Adam Garfinkle points out, the US has both a strategic interest and humanitarian interest in intervening in Syria, yet Washington does nothing but offer empty threats. Intervening would be dangerous and complicated, and there’s no way to predict if it would preserve the country of Syria as we know it, but these uncertainties will only increase with time.
And so Russia builds the missile launchers, which Syria buys and Israel bombs. What could possibly go wrong? Maybe, as Adam writes, the Obama administration’s calculus on intervention will change; maybe not. It’s anyone’s guess. The bottom line is that the Middle East, from Basra to Beirut, is fast becoming a complex, interconnected war.
[A Russian surface-to-air missile system S-300 PMU2 Favorit outside Moscow on April 18, 2012. Courtesy of Getty Images.]