US: Russian missiles could embolden Assad

Dempsey: Recent shipment of advanced Yakhont missiles "ill-timed" and could prolong suffering of bloody civil war.

By REUTERS
May 18, 2013 02:14
3 minute read.
Russian Yakhont anti-ship cruise missile.

Yakhont missile370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON - The top US military officer on Friday condemned

But many US officials fear weapons could fall into the wrong hands. Reuters on Friday reported that al Qaida's Iraq-based wing is eclipsing in Syria the Islamist Nusra Front, which has been fighting to oust Assad. Al Qaida in Iraq includes thousands of foreign fighters whose ultimate goal is not toppling Assad but anti-Western jihad.

Obama said Thursday he would consider both diplomatic and military options to pressure Assad, but insisted that US action alone would not be enough to resolve the Syrian crisis.

REGIONAL WAR

The two-year-old civil war in Syria between Assad's forces and rebel fighters has killed an estimated 80,000 people and forced more than 1.5 million to flee the fighting.

It has also drawn in neighbors. Israel attacked Iranian-supplied missiles stored near the Syrian capital earlier this month as the weapons awaited transport to Assad's Lebanese guerrilla ally Hezbollah.

Israel has also been alarmed by the prospect of Russia supplying S-300 advanced air defense missile systems to Syria.

Asked about the S-300, Dempsey said: "It pushes the standoff distance a little more, increases risk, but not impossible to overcome."

"What I'm really worried about is that Assad will decide that, since he's got these systems, he's somehow safer and/or more prone to a miscalculation," Dempsey said, referring broadly to Syrian capabilities.

A spokesman for Russia's state arms-exporting monopoly, Rosoboronexport, would not comment when asked about the shipment of a new batch of Yakhont missiles to Syria.

Russia previously delivered Yakhont missiles in 2011 in a deal estimated at $300 million.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cautioned that the escalation of the Syrian conflict posed risks to Russian interests as well.

"What we don't want to see happen, the Russians don't want to see happen, is for Syria to erupt to the point where we may well find a regional war in the Middle East," Hagel said at the news conference with Dempsey.

"So we continue to work with the Russians on their interests and everything we can do to convince the powers that are involved in the region to be careful with escalation of military options and equipment. We'll continue to work through that."


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