On the one hand, it's a fairly expected announcement: On the heels of Russia's confirmation of a missile deal with Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has confirmed that the initial shipment of S-300 air defense missiles was in fact delivered to his country, with the second portion of the order arriving today. But Assad's statement, made in an interview to air today on Al Manar TV, and reaction to it bear some noteworthy aspects:
- As the New York Times points out, Al Manar is a channel run by Hezbollah, and that choice of delivery method, in the Times' view, only enhances "the confrontational atmosphere" of Assad's statements.
- The interview was actually taped on Tuesday, according to a Beirut source. That same day, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon firmly denied a weapons delivery had occurred, warning Russia that such a move could spur Israel to retaliate. "If, by some fortune, [the missiles] arrive in Syria, we will know what to do," he said.
- Per the AP, the next day, Syria's foreign minister said in a TV interview that Damascus "will retaliate immediately" if Israel strikes Syrian soil again. (Reuters notes Israel has thus far launched three airstrikes against Syria in a bid to stop weapons transfers.)
- But the AP notes that with the S-300 system in hand, the Israeli air force's abilities are curtailed, as the S-300s will allow Syria to counter airstrikes launched from foreign airspace.
- What exactly are the S-300 systems capable of? A second Israeli minister says they have a range of up to 185 miles; the AP, which puts their range at 125 miles, reports they're able to track and strike multiple targets simultaneously.
- What does Israel have to say about all this? No statement has been issued yet.