Tens of thousands of Russian troops have been placed on alert after a suspected Israeli airstrike destroyed advanced, Russian missiles recently delivered to Syria.
Last week, in the Syrian port city of Latakia, several pre-dawn explosions were reported to have destroyed advanced Russian missiles that had recently arrived and were being temporarily stored at the port. A spokesman for the opposition Free Syrian Army, describing the July 5 attack, said Tuesday that “It was not the FSA that targeted this. It is not an attack that was carried out by rebels.” The FSA spokesman, Qassem Saadeddine, went on to say “This attack was either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean.” The suggestion is that Israel was behind the attack. The Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles, it is speculated, could have been considered a threat to Israel’s naval forces.
Israel has not commented on the attack. In May, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon commented that Israel “will know what to do” in the event that Russian missiles were delivered to Syria. Israel has carried out previous airstrikes in Syria, including and attack upon vehicles carrying weapons towards the Lebanese border.
In a July 13 report from the official Russian news agency, ITAR-TASS, The Russian Defense Ministry has announced what is being described as “the most ambitious [check alert] in the history of post-Soviet test readiness.” A check alert, according to the Defense Ministry is a mobilization for exercises designed “to test the readiness of units to perform assigned tasks, and assessment of the level of training of personnel, staffing and technical readiness units and formations with arms and military equipment.” The alert, according to the ITAR-TASS report, involves more than 80,000 troops, around a thousand tanks and armored personnel carriers, some 130 aircraft and 70 naval vessels.
This massive military alert is seen as a response to the disclosure Friday to CNN, by unnamed US officials, that the destruction of the Russian missiles in Syria was a result of Israeli airstrikes.
The United States government has previously indicated its desire to provide the rebels in Syria with weapons and other military assistance. Meanwhile, both the rebels and pro-government forces in Syria have obtained American weapons – likely via Iraq.
The Syrian army – aided by Iran and Lebanese-based Hezbollah, continues to make slow progress in rolling back rebel gains. FSA pockets of resistance in the city of Homs continue to struggle against a tightening siege by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad. This latest suspected Israeli airstrike and Russian military alert signals a growing danger that the more than two-year-old Syrian conflict will escalate into a wider, regional conflict.
Graham J Noble