Russia Steps Up Missile Sales to Syria

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Not only will Russia make good on delivering advanced S-300 anti-missile batteries and surface-to-air missiles to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, it has also provided anti-ship cruise missiles with advanced guidance systems, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

According to the report, an upgraded version of the Yakhont anti-ship missiles is equipped with more advanced radar systems that will effectively prevent any foreign military intervention in Syria.

"It enables the regime to deter foreign forces looking to supply the opposition from sea or from undertaking a more active role if a no-fly zone or shipping embargo were to be declared at some point," the Times quoted IHS Jane's International Defense Review editor-in-chief Nick Brown. "It's a real ship killer."

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russia deployed at least a dozen warships to guard its naval base at Syria's Tartus port and provide further deterrence to any foreign intervention in the country's civil war.

Over the past two weeks, Putin has welcomed U.S. Defense Secretary John Kerry, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for discussions on Syria.

Following Kerry's visit on May 7-8, the two countries announced plans for an international conference to discuss solutions to the Syrian crisis.

Meanwhile, CIA director John Brennan met with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and Netanyahu to discuss the escalating situation in Syria and attempts to stop Iran's nuclear pursuits.

While Israel's chief concern is preventing the transfer of Syrian and Iranian missiles and other weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, that doesn't appear to be at the top of the Russian agenda. Some analysts believe Russia's support of the Assad regime reflects its commitment to Iran.

Both Syria and Iran are interested in bolstering Hezbollah's capability to threaten Israel, while Iran marches undeterred, despite sanctions and diplomacy, toward acquiring nuclear weapons.

It's clear that Russia's decades-long weapons sales to Syria enabled Assad to stand against international calls for him to step down while effectively positioning Putin as a key player in the region.

Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Jeffrey White called the missile sales "a signal of the Russian commitment to the Syrian government."

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