A Syria missile system deployed by Russia could deny the U.S. the use of warplanes and cruise missiles to counter a stepped up offensive in the rebel-held east around Aleppo since the collapse of a cease-fire two weeks ago.
American defense officials were supposed to meet on Wednesday to consider their options after suspending diplomatic contacts with Russia over Syria on Monday, and news reports said the options included military strikes on Syrian runways used to launch attacks on Aleppo.
The deployment of state-of-the-art S-300 air defense missiles capable of intercepting both planes and missiles will add punch to the Russian military force in Syria, which already has long-range S-400 missile defense systems and an array of other surface-to-air missiles at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, reported The Associated Press.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that it had deployed the S-300 missile system to its Tartus naval base in Syria, reported Reuters.
“The missile battery is intended to ensure the safety of the naval base ... It is unclear why the deployment of the S-300 caused such alarm among our Western partners,” the ministry said in a statement. It said the missiles will also help protect Russian warships in the area.
According to reporting by the AP on other developments in Syria, forces backing Syrian President Bashar Assad pressed their offensive Tuesday on Aleppo's rebel-held zone from the south, after capturing areas on other fronts in recent days.
As reinforcements arrived, including Shiite fighters from Iraq, the strategy appeared to be to retake rebel-held areas bit by bit, backed by massive Russian airpower, rather than risk a potentially costly all-out ground battle.
The latest tactic of whittling away at rebel-held areas of Aleppo rather than launching an all-out offensive has proved successful in the past: The government reasserted control of the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, and most of the central city of Homs using the strategy.
"The Syrian army and its allies are in a sustained offensive to recapture rebel-held eastern Aleppo," said Robert Ford, a veteran diplomat and former ambassador to Syria.
"Unless the balance on the ground drastically shifts, the Assad regime will eventually retake from opposition fighters all of Aleppo and the outlying districts of Damascus," wrote Ford, a fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. "This may take months, but the balance is certainly in the Syrian government's favor."
"Aleppo is ... the Syrian crisis and its liberation will end plans to divide Syria," agreed Amin Hoteit, a former Lebanese army general and expert on military and strategic affairs.
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