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

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)


Outsider leads after divisive Tunisia presidential poll

Updated 33 min 5 sec ago

Outsider leads after divisive Tunisia presidential poll

  • Law professor Saied and magnate Karoui, after exit polls showed they had qualified for the second round of voting

TUNIS: Political outsider Kais Saied was leading Tunisia’s election with just over a quarter of votes counted, the election commission said Monday, in the country’s second free presidential vote since the Arab Spring.
Saied was on 19 percent, leading imprisoned media magnate Nabil Karoui, who was on 14.9 percent, and ahead of the candidate from the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party Abdelfattah Mourou (13.1 percent).
The announcement came after both Saied and Karoui’s camp claimed to have won through to the second round, in the highly divisive polls.
Local papers splashed photos across their front pages of law professor Saied and magnate Karoui, after exit polls showed they had qualified for the second round of voting.
“An unexpected verdict,” ran a headline in La Presse.
Le Temps titled its editorial “The Slap,” while the Arabic language Echourouk newspaper highlighted a “political earthquake” and a “tsunami” in the Maghreb.
The initial signs point toward a major upset for Tunisia’s political establishment, in place since the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
It could also usher in a period of immense uncertainty for the fledgling north African democracy, the sole success story of the Arab Spring revolts.
Tunisia’s electoral commission (ISIE) reported low turnout at 45 percent, down from 64 percent in the country’s first democratic polls in 2014.
Late Sunday, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called on the liberal and centrist camps to band together for legislative elections set for October 6, voicing concern that low participation was “bad for the democratic transition.”
Chahed, a presidential hopeful whose popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living, could well turn out to be the election’s biggest loser.
The election comes against a backdrop of serious social and economic crises.
Karoui, a 56-year-old media magnate, has been behind bars since August 23 on charges of money laundering and Tunisia’s judiciary has refused his release three times.
A controversial businessman, labelled a “populist” by critics, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest.
His apparent rival is political neophyte Saied.
The highly conservative constitutionalist, known to Tunisians for his televised political commentary since the 2011 revolt, has shunned political parties and mass rallies. Instead, he has opted to go door-to-door to explain his policies.
He advocates a rigorous overhaul of the constitution and voting system, to decentralize power “so that the will of the people penetrates into central government and puts an end to corruption.”
Often surrounded by young acolytes, he also set forth his social conservatism, defending the death penalty, criminalization of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.
“It’s going to be new,” said a baker named Said on Monday, issuing a wry smile.
“We’ll have to wait and see. Anyway, what matters in Tunisia is the parliament.”
The first round was marked by high rates of apathy among young voters, pushing ISIE head to put out an emergency call to them Sunday an hour before polls closed.
On Sunday morning, senior citizen Adil Toumi had asked as he voted in the capital “where are the young people?“
Political scientist Hamza Meddeb told AFP “this is a sign of very deep discontent with the political class that has not met economic and social expectations,“
“Disgust with the political elite seems to have resulted in a vote for outsiders.”
Distrust of the political establishment runs high in Tunisia, where unemployment is at 15 percent and the cost of living has risen by close to a third since 2016.
Extremist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector.
Around 70,000 security forces were mobilized for the polls.
The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.