Syria's Assad threatens Israel with Russian S300 missiles
Fears that delivery of new weapons to Syria could spark new war and shift the balance of power
TENSIONS in war-torn Syria have escalated even further after President Bashar al-Assad warned Israel that his troops would respond to air strikes and implied that he was now in possession of Russian anti-aircraft missiles.
The threat came in a TV interview with Lebanon's Hezbollah-linked al-Manar station, which was also broadcast on Syrian state media. In it Assad warned that his government, which is already waging a bloody civil war, would "respond to any strike [in Syria] with a similar strike".
It remains unclear whether the batch of S300 missiles, which were ordered from Moscow in 2007, had finally been delivered. But Assad cut a confident figure and claimed to have scored significant victories over rebel forces in the country's civil war. He said the Syrian army now held "the balance of power" in that conflict.
Assad also appeared to aim another threat at his neighbour Israel, which has launched airstrikes against Syria to stop them arming Hezbollah in Lebanon. He claimed there had been calls in Syria to open a military front against Israel on the border they share. "There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan," he said.
According to The Guardian, Assad's threats are "likely to dramatically increase tensions in the region... which could provoke the Israelis to launch a future strike against the weapons". It even warns that the arms deal could trigger a new war between Syria and Israel.
The S300 deal is certainly significant. If and when the missiles do arrive it could "change the balance of power in the region," according to The Times.
"Assad's boast comes days after the European Union lifted an arms embargo on Syria — paving the way for individual countries of the bloc to send weapons to rebel fighters, and raising fears of an arms race in the region that could draw in outside powers," the paper adds.
The Daily Telegraph agrees. "The S300, seen as a game-changer in any potential conflict with Mr Assad's potential enemies, would be a major obstacle to a no-fly zone and shows Russia's determination to defend Mr Assad at all costs," it says.
The BBC notes that Assad has also said he would "in principle" attend a peace conference backed by the US and Russia in Geneva. However, rebel groups within Syria say they will not attend until government massacres come to an end.