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Russian Anti-Aircraft Missile System, S-300. copyrights: www.kremlin.ru.

 Israel's brinkmanship...

 Has Moscow finally got the message? Israel cannot and will not tolerate the deployment of Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles in Syria. If Moscow will not deliver the system to President Bashar Assad's regime before 2014, Israelis can breathe easier. Those missiles, which would threaten civil and military aircraft flying over Israel, could be a real game changer. Therefore, Israel is not bluffing even if it means a dangerous confrontation with the Russians. (Prior to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel ignored the Egyptian Army's surreptitious movement of Russian SAM anti-aircraft missiles into the Suez Canal zone in flagrant violation of the 'cease-fire in place'. When the Egyptians later launched their surprise attack they had an aerial umbrella in place that protected their ground forces crossing the waterway. The IDF paid a heavy price in blood when those missiles wreaked havoc on Israeli jets trying to assist the vastly outnumbered IDF soldiers on the eastern side of the Canal.) Moreover, an S-300 system in Syria could threaten any future preventative Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear weapons program as well as instigating both Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza to step up their attacks on the Jewish state. 

 Russian risks... 

 But overall, even the S-300 missiles could not alter the strategic balance of power between Israel and Syria. Two former IDF Chiefs of Staff Shaul Mofaz and Danny Halutz, who was also an IAF commander, are confident that Israel will know how to cope, if and when the S-300 missile ever shows up in Syria. In Mofaz's estimate: 'The IDF has a big tool-box of options for dealing with the S-300'. And Halutz, a former fighter pilot and IAF commander, said: 'It is not out of the question that the Israeli Air Force has already developed tactics for neutralizing the S-300'. (DE: As noted earlier, the Russian SAM anti-aircraft missiles took a heavy toll on Israeli jets during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. However during the First Lebanon War eight years later, Israeli aircrafts knocked out 18 of 19 Syrian SAM missile sites, and shot down eighty-nine Syrian jets in just twenty-four hours.) At the time, I recall Gen (ret.) Chaim Herzog telling me: 'Israel's air strike has sent shock waves not only through the Soviet Union but also through the entire Warsaw Pact states that are dependent on those Russian anti-aircraft missiles'. Putin should take into account that the IAF just might destroy the vaunted S-300, dealing a severe blow to Russia. Moreover, what will happen to the missile systems if Assad falls and they fall into the hands of Al Qaeda? These are some, but not all the dangers of the missiles winding up in the wrong hands from Moscow's perspective.   

 Multi-layered confrontation in Syria... 

 In order to placate Assad and ward off the U.S. and EU countries from imposing a no-fly zone to neutralize the Syrian Air Force, President Putin is shipping Assad at least ten MIG -29s, twenty million bullets, and other weapons. On the other side, the rebels are begging the U.S. and the West to supply them with weapons, medicines and food. They face the combined Syrian army and Hezbollah assault against the strategic town of Qusayr that links Damascus with the largely Alawite region on the Mediterranean. The Shi'a-Sunni rift is now escalating rapidly and spilling over to neighboring Lebanon, which is also a hotbed between Hezbollah Shi'a and rival Sunni Moslems. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah is in hot water, both in Lebanon and the Arab world, for dispatching an estimated seven-thousand of his Shi'a fighters to kill Sunni Moslems in Syria. In retaliation, Sunni rebels inside Syria have fired several rockets over the border at Shi'a communities in Lebanon. Sunni religious leaders throughout the Arab world are castigating Nasrallah, and the six Gulf States have even called on the EU to brand Hezbollah as a terror organization. Clearly, if Assad falls, both Iran and Hezbollah will be weakened. In the view of Israeli expert Prof. Uzi Rabi: 'Syria has turned into a multi-layered confrontation, and while the Syrian people are paying the price, it is also a match-up between Sunnis and Shi'a, with a throwback to the Cold War contest between the U.S. and Russia'. He concluded that, “Even if Assad survived, it would take him years to rebuild a devastated Syria.”


David Essing

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