In Washington last Friday, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced that Russia will supply P-800 Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria, confirming the rumors about the contract between the two countries that appeared in October 2009. The contract was signed in 2007 according to Moscow.
A ram-jet powered Yakhont (“Ruby” or “Sapphire” in Russian) is a universal supersonic anti-ship cruise missile. It can be launched from land, sea, air, and submarines. Because it flies at 2.5 Mach at water-skimming altitudes, it is virtually cloaked from radar detection. It also has a long range—up to 160 miles, and a large warhead, 440 lbs. This sale is yet another poke in the eye of Obama Administration’s “reset” policy with Russia. Deployment of the Yakhonts to Syria is a major threat to U.S. staunchest ally in the Middle East—Israel.
The Administration should pay closer attention to its own interests—the U.S. 6th Fleet is stationed in the Mediterranean Sea within the range of the powerful Yakhont missiles—as well as to Israeli concerns.
Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak tried to convince the Russian Federation not to proceed with the sale because of the fear that this advanced weapon system will fall into terrorist hands, e.g. Hamas or Hezbollah. Moreover, Israel went out of its way to accommodate Moscow by agreeing recently to sell it its advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (drones or UAVs)—an effort to appease Russia and prevent it from selling advanced missile systems to Iran and Syria.
Serdyukov would hear nothing of that: “The U.S. and Israel ask us not to supply Syria with Yakhont. But we do not recognize the concerns expressed by them that these arms will fall into the hands of terrorists,” he stated during a press conference in Washington.
Yet, if Syria transferred relatively advanced weapons to a dangerous non-state actor, it wouldn’t be the first time: it previously transferred such weapons to Hezbollah, a Shi’ite fundamentalist terrorist organization, and a state-within-a state in Lebanon. Iran launched Hezbollah as part of its aggressive efforts to export its Islamist revolution back in 1983.
In the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah fired thousands of short-range missiles and Katyusha rockets into Israel. It also managed to damage INS HANIT, a corvette in the Israeli Navy, using Syria-supplied, Iranian-made anti-ship missiles. And Hezbollah leaders made numerous statements that they are willing to harm U.S. interests.
The U.S. should also view Russia’s supplying of missiles to Syria in the context of ongoing peace talks between the Palestinian leadership and Israeli government. Russia, a member of the Middle East Quartet, was not invited to co-sponsor the talks and complained about it.
Damascus is making it increasingly clear that if concessions on the Golan Heights are not made by Israel, Syria is ready for a tough response. Russia is trying to muscle its way back to the Middle East using neo-Soviet tactics: support of radicals and arms sales.
For Russia, the arms sale is seen as an opportunity to increase its influence over an old Soviet ally—Syria. Moreover, if the tensions in the Middle East increase, the price of oil will be higher, which in turn will fill the coffers in Moscow.
While the Obama Administration hails the successes of its “reset” policy, Russia continues its neo-Soviet foreign policy, selling arms and nuclear technology. Moscow did not close the door on the S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missile sales to Iran; fueled the Russian-sold Bushehr reactor; and refused to recognize Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organization—something the US did (the EU recognized Hamas only, but not Hezbollah).
The Obama Administration should stop boasting about the “successes” of the Russia reset policy and hold Moscow accountable for destabilizing arms and nuclear technology sales to anti-American actors.