US airs alarm over Russian plan to arm Assad regime with new air-defense missile systems

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Tracked launcher of the Russian S-300 (SA-10 Grumble) family anti-aircraft missile system. (Shutterstock photo)
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A Russian army's S-300 anti-aircraft missile system launcher rolls in central St. Petersburg, on April 28, 2014, during a Victory Day parade rehearsal. (File/ AFP)
Updated 25 September 2018
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US airs alarm over Russian plan to arm Assad regime with new air-defense missile systems

  • President Vladimir Putin has ordered additional security measures after a Syrian Soviet-era S-200 air defence missile shot down a Russian military plane by mistake
  • Russia will transfer the modern S-300 air defence system to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks

MOSCOW/JEDDAH:  Russia is to supply the Assad regime with sophisticated S-300 air-defense missile systems in what the US described on Monday as a “significant escalation” of the Syrian conflict.

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said he would raise the matter this week with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN General Assembly in New York. 

The move follows a “friendly fire” incident last week when Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian military reconnaissance aircraft and killed all 15 people on board. Russia said Israeli fighter jets had pushed the plane into Syria’s line of fire.

The S-300 missile defense systems will be delivered to Damascus within two weeks, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday. 

He said that President Vladimir Putin ordered additional security measures after a Syrian Soviet-era S-200 missile shot down the Russian military plane by mistake, killing 15, in an incident last Monday that Moscow blames on Israel.

“This has pushed us to adopt adequate response measures directed at boosting the security of Russian troops” in Syria, Shoigu said in a televised statement.

“(Russia will) transfer the modern S-300 air defense system to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks.”

Earlier in the war, Russia suspended a supply of S-300s. “The situation has changed, and it’s not our fault,” Shoigu said. 

Russia will also equip Syrian air defenses with a new automated control system to enhance its efficiency and help identify Russian aircraft, Shoigu said. 

The Russian military will start using electronic countermeasures to jam any aircraft that try to launch attacks off Syria’s coast.“We are convinced that these measures will calm down some hotheads and keep them from careless actions that pose a threat to our troops,” he said.

The S-300 missile system, originally developed by the Soviet military but since modernized and available in several versions with different capabilities, fires missiles from trucks and is designed to shoot down military aircraft and short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

A surface-to-air missile launched by an S-300 anti-aircraft system at Russia's Astrakhan region in 2017. Shutterstock photo) 

'Iran is to blame'

“We think introducing the S-300s to the Syrian government would be a significant escalation by the Russians ... and something that we hope, if these press reports are accurate, they would reconsider,” US National Security Adviser John Bolton said.

“There shouldn’t be any misunderstanding here. The party responsible for the attacks in Syria and Lebanon and really the party responsible for the shooting down of the Russian plane is Iran.”

Bolton warned that if the Syrian government used chemical weapons again, the US response would be significant.

“If in fact they make the mistake of using chemical weapons again, the retaliation would be much stronger than before and would have the intended effect of creating structures of deterrence that they never do it again,” he said.

Bolton said the US was doing everything it could to ensure Syria did not use chemical weapons and had pressed Russia about the issue as well. Bolton said a political process was needed but Russia supplying the missile system made that difficult. 

He said US troops would remain in Syria as long as Iran was involved.

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.”

 

Russians not convinced

Moscow says Israeli F-16 planes which struck Latakia in western Syria on Sept. 17 later used the landing Russian Il-20 surveillance plane as “cover,” which resulted in the larger Il-20 being hit by a Syrian missile.

The Russian military has said that Israel’s air force informed its command in Syria via the established de-confliction hotline, but only one minute before the air strikes — and gave the wrong target location.

Because of this, Moscow claims that the Russian airforce could not keep its plane safe.

Israel regularly carries out strikes in Syria against Assad’s government, its Lebanese ally Hezbollah and Iranian targets. An Israeli military delegation traveled to Moscow last week to share information about the incident.

An Israeli official said the information showed that the Russian plane was shot down because Syrian batteries had “fired recklessly, irresponsibly and unprofessionally, long after our planes were no longer there.”

He said the warning time before the strike was “much longer than one minute.”

Russia has apparently not found this convincing.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said the incident was caused by “premeditated” actions by Israeli pilots, warning that this will harm relations between the two countries.

“According to information of our military experts, the reason (behind the downing) were premeditated actions by Israeli pilots which certainly cannot but harm our relations,” Peskov told journalists.

The incident was the deadliest case of friendly fire between Syria and its key backer Russia since Moscow’s 2015 military intervention, which turned the war in Assad’s favor.

Peskov said the new measures were only to boost the security of its troops in Syria.

(With AFP)


Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

Updated 27 June 2019
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Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

  • Mnuchin confident of raising the first $4 billion soon

MANAMA: Jared Kushner’s “workshop” aimed at securing economic prosperity for Palestine closed with optimistic forecasts from President Donald Trump’s special adviser that it could be the basis for a forthcoming political deal with Israel.

Kushner told journalists at a post-event briefing: “I think that people are all leaving very energized, very pleasantly surprised at how many like-minded people they see. It is a solvable problem economically, and the reason why we thought it was important to lay out the economic vision before we lay out the political vision is because we feel we need people to see what the future can look like.

“The Palestinian people have been promised a lot of things over the years that have not come true. We want to show them that this is the plan, this is what can happen if there is a peace deal.”

The next stage, before a political deal is attempted, will be to get feedback from the event and agree to commitments for the $50 billion package for Palestine and other regional economies.

“I think you need $50 billion to really do this the right way, to get a paradigm shift,” Kushner added.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I could not be happier how this has gone,” adding that he was “highly confident we will soon have the first $4 billion. It’s going to be like a hot initial public offering.”

Most of the attendees at the event in Manama, Bahrain, gave Kushner’s economic proposals a serious hearing and agreed it was a useful exercise. Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Saudi minister of state, said: “Can it be done? Yes it can, because it was done before. In the mid-1990s to about the year 2000 there was a global coordinated effort by the US and other countries. I was at the World Bank at the time. I saw it. If we could do it then with significantly less money we can do it again.”

Others warned, however, that there was still a long way to go on the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, said a political deal was essential.

“This is an economic plan that, if it is implemented, is going to do enormous good for the Palestinian people. But it isn’t a substitute for the politics. There will be no economic peace. There will be a peace that will be a political component and an economic component. The economy can help the politics and the politics is necessary for the economy to flourish.

“The politics has got to be right in this sense as well. The obvious sense people talk about is how do you negotiate the contours of the boundaries of a Palestinian state in a two state solution,” Blair said.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, highlighted the work the fund has done in conflict situations. “We had an exceptional result in Rwanda, and a good economic outcome in Mozambique,” she said. But she contrasted this with disappointing results in other African conflicts.

Lagarde said that the aim of the economic plan should be to create jobs. “The focus should be on job-intensive industries, like agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.”

Willem Buiter, special economic adviser to US banking giant Citi, said there were obstacles to the Kushner plan succeeding. “Necessary conditions for any progress are peace, safety and security. And there must be high-quality governance and the rule of law in Palestine,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Jared Kushner believes the conflict is a ‘solvable problem economically.’

• The senior adviser vows to lay out political plans at the right time.

• Expert urges external funding in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans.

He also suggested external funding should be in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans. “We should not burden a country trying to escape from its past with high debts,” he added.

Some attendees warned of the risks to investor funds in the current political situation in the Middle East. 

But Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said: “Risk is not new to the region. We’ve tackled it for the past 30 to 40 years, but that has not stopped investment flowing in.

“Investors trade risk for return, and the Middle East has learned to cope with risk and conflict. There are pockets where the risk is high and Palestine is one of them. But I remain positive. The return in the region is higher to compensate for the risk,” he added.

At a session of regional finance ministers, Mohammed Al-Jadaan of Saudi Arabia said: “The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope. There is a way forward, but you need political commitment.”

UAE Finance Minister Obaid Al-Tayer added: “We are decoupling politics from economics. If it’s the only initiative on the table we should all give it a chance.”