Across the Bay

Friday, August 22, 2008

Russian Weapons to Hezbollah?

You all read the news by now that Syria's dictator went to acquire certain types of weapons from the Russians, such as the Pantsyr-S1 air defense missile systems and the BUK-M1 surface-to-air missiles (SA-11 GADFLY).

However, the Syrians wanted three types of missile systems in particular: the S-300 surface-to-air missile system with a 200 km range, the Igla (SA-18) MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) with a range of 5-8 km, and the Iskander-E missile system (range of 280 km).

The Israelis interfered with Putin in 2005 to stop the sale of these systems in particular. While Russia did indeed refrain from selling the S-300 and the Iskander, they ended up selling the Syrians the Strelets missile system, which consisted of vehicle-mounted Iglas, but did not include the man-portable platform, over the protests of the US and Israel.

The Syrians had already passed along to Hezbollah anti-tank systems and rockets from their own stockpiles, such as the RPG-29 and the AT- 14 Kornet-E and AT-13 Metis-M. Photographs were delivered to Russia as evidence that weapons exported by Moscow to Syria ended up with Hezbollah.

As such, the concerns that the Syrians would pass man-portable (or even vehicle-mounted) anti-aircraft systems, such as the shoulder-fired Igla, remain valid. That Syria is still seeking these systems only highlights the likely intent to pass them along to Hezbollah.

Indeed, Corriere della Sera reports today that a Hezbollah delegation, traveling with Iranian papers and cover, visited the "Expo 2008" arms expo in Russia, between July 9 and 12, looking for anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems.

It's unclear whether a deal was reached to purchase anything, or whether the Hezbollah delegation was compiling a list to be bankrolled by Iran and delivered through Syria, as has been the case.

It's seemingly not likely that the Russians would accept the Syrian dictator's request for a Russian missile station in Syria, and will likely restrict their message to the dispatch of the Kuznetsov (whether they will upgrade the Tartus port, as had long been the story, remains to be seen). However, whether they will agree to go ahead with the Igla or other systems, is something to watch for.

All of this comes after the revelation of Syrian cooperation with North Korea on building a clandestine nuclear facility, as well as their continuing cooperation with the Iranians.