Russia has sent advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing American officials.
The officials stated that the move exemplifies the extent of Russia's support for the Syrian government and its embattled leader, President Bashar Assad.
The missiles, called Yakhonts, are equipped with an advanced radar that renders them more effective, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified intelligence information.
Unlike the long-range surface-to-surface missiles that stand at the Assad regime's disposal, the Yakhont anti-ship missile system allows the Syrian military to stand against potential efforts by international forces to impose a naval embargo or a no-fly zone on the country, or to carry out limited airstrikes in support of the Syrian opposition.
Syria’s new weaponry would “tend to push Western or allied naval activity further off the coast” and was “a signal of the Russian commitment to the Syrian government,” said Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official.
In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that Russia has dispatched a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Syria, as part of the European country's newly aggressive stance that evidently seeks to deter the West and Israel from getting involved the crisis in Syria.
These reports come just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked him not to sell Syria anti-aircraft missiles.
Knesset Member Tzachi Hanegbi on Friday stressed that Israel has no interest in intervening in Syria's civil war, but expressed hope that "the Russians understand that supplying missiles to what could be the most volatile and sensitive region in the world is not the solution."
"The Russians are betting everything they have on the Assad card, and it's unclear why," Hanegbi said in an interview with Israel Radio.
According to the New York Times report, Syria had first ordered the Yakhont missiles from Russia in 2007, and received the first batteries – which did not include the advanced radar – in 2011. It initially ordered 72 missiles, 36 launchers and additional support equipment.
The missiles are 6.7 meters long and can reach a distance of 290 kilometers. Each missile has its own radar to help evade a ship’s defense system. The launchers are mobile, which makes them difficult to target.
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