Heightening tension in the Middle East, the European Union recently decided to lift the embargo on weapons to the rebels in Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and its ally, Russia, oppose the EU’s move, accusing the bloc of supporting “terrorists.
Perhaps in response, Russia boldly announced intentions to supply the Syrian army with anti-aircraft missiles.
The Syrian civil war increases in scope and bloodshed by the day. Last month, three Lebanese soldiers were shot and killed by gunmen in the Lebanese city of Hermel. Residents blame either Syrian rebels or the rebels’ Lebanese Sunni sympathizers. Now Lebanon’s Hezbollah fighters, that country’s Shiite movement, have united with Assad’s regime. Last week the combined forces took the Syrian city of Qusair, after crushing the rebels in a three-week-long battle.
When the fighting reached the city of Quneitra, Syria violated the 1974 Disengagement Agreement by driving tanks and armored personnel carriers into the “area of separation,” prompting Israel to threaten the Syrians with military action unless they withdrew from the UN-patrolled demilitarized zone between the two countries.
Not one to back down from a fight, Israel also challenged Russia about supplying missiles to the Syrians. “The shipments haven’t set out yet, and I hope they won’t. If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we’ll know what to do,” said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, telling reporters that he considered the move by Russia “a threat.” Israel has reportedly targeted weapons with at least three strikes against Syria since the civil war began in March 2011 and may do the same to the impending Russian shipments. Russia, however, has made no effort to halt its plans. Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel stated last week that the Russian arms shipment “is on its way.”
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Photo of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system: AP Images