Russia sending missiles to Syria; arms from Britain, France could follow as embargo lapses

Written by Max Ehrenfreund

More foreign weapons appear likely to enter Syria in the near future. Russia has been regularly supplying weapons to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, in what Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick describe as a an effort by Moscow to reassert its influence in the Middle East. Russia has promised to supply antiaircraft rockets to the regime, which Assad claimed to have received Thursday. Military experts doubted Assad’s statement:

“I’m not aware of any evidence substantiating it,” said Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces. “Did missiles arrive? Did radar arrive? It is a system, with very large missiles, very hard to hide, and very heavy launchers.”

Herzog said the Russians would likely ship the S-300 system by breaking down the components. “It would take many months for everything to arrive, and then they would have to assemble it,” he said.

Israeli officials have indicated that they would take action to ensure that the missile system, which has a range of 130 miles — roughly the distance from Damascus to Tel Aviv — does not become operational. (Read the full article here.) Loveday Morris and William Booth

Earlier this week, the European Union allowed its arms embargo on Syria to lapse, which could allow France and the United Kingdom, which support the opposition rebels seeking to oust Assad, to send weapons to them. Foreign intervention in Syria, however, is unpopular in most Middle Eastern countries:

Newspaper editorial writers from Iran to Israel condemned the lapse as a dangerous escalation of the ongoing civil conflict, the BBC Monitoring service reported Wednesday morning. Generally, their complaints fall into three camps: more weapons will only heat up the conflict; the E.U. should have waited for the upcoming peace talks in Geneva; and foreigners — including Russia and the U.S. — should just stay out, in general.

That seems to echo popular sentiment across the Middle East. A March poll by the Pew Research Center found that majorities in five of six countries (Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories) opposed American and European attempts to arm Syrian rebels. Most people don’t even want their own government to intervene — the same poll found that only Jordan supported sending military aid north. Caitlin Dewey

Jordanians are concerned about the war entering their territory, and some have been forming militias and patrolling the border between the two countries The violence has also spread to Lebanon, where rebels have retaliated against Hezbollah with rockets after fighters from the organization entered Syria to defend the Assad regime.

What actions the United States will take if the conflict continues to widen remains a question. Last month, senior officials in the Obama administration told DeYoung that the president was preparing to order shipments of weapons to the opposition. So far, the United States has only sent food, medical supplies and equipment such as body armor. Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), who crossed the Syrian border briefly on Monday to meet with rebel leaders, has been a vocal advocate for a more forceful U.S. role. Yet Obama still lacks support from the left for intervention:

The liberal hawks, a cast of prominent left-leaning intellectuals, played high-profile roles in advocating for American military intervention on foreign soil — whether for regime change or to prevent humanitarian disasters. They pressured President Bill Clinton to intervene in Bosnia, provided intellectual cover on the left for President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and urged President Obama to engage in Libya. But even as the body count edges toward 100,000 in Syria and reports of apparent chemical-weapons use by Assad, liberal advocates for interceding have been rare, spooked perhaps by the traumatic experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and the clear reluctance of a Democratic president to get mired in the Middle East. Call them Syria’s mourning doves. (Read the rest of the article here.) Jason Horowitz

 
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