Keeping Assad in Power

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A Russian S-300 antiaircraft missile system in an undisclosed location in Russia.

Boasting about one’s weaponry is nothing unusual in war, where there’s little way of confirming the veracity of the claim.

In that, Syrian President Bashar Assad was following a long tradition of wartime leaders, when he told the Hizballah-backed Lebanese channel al-Manar last Thursday that he had sufficient stockpiles of Russian weapons to pose a threat to Israel, thanks to arms deals with Moscow that date to before the war erupted in February 2011.

“The contracts have nothing to do with the crisis,” Assad said in the interview. “We have negotiated with them on different kinds of weapons for years, and Russia is committed to honoring these contracts.”

In fact, Assad’s boast might be more than bluster. While there’s no sign that Moscow has delivered the long-range S-300 missiles that Israel has vowed to take out in bombing strikes (Russian officials estimate their earliest delivery date for the S-300s is late this year), Assad already has several air-defense systems from Moscow in his quiver, according to analysts who monitor arms shipments.

In interviews they say they watched a steep military ramp-up by Syria in the period running up to the start of the war more than two years ago. While they agree that the S-300s are more accurate and have greater range than Assad’s current weapons systems, they say the Syrian leader is far from powerless without them.

Full dispatch here.