Russian personnel have been on the ground in Syria for months.
If Russia carries through with its weapons deals — S300 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) — there will be more Russian personnel on the ground to man those missile systems.
That Israel can destroy the missiles is of little consequence as Russia can just build more. It’s the potential for Russian casualties caused by Israel air strikes that could expand the conflict. There’s no replacement for lost life.
Russia’s intentions with sending the hardware of S300 missile systems is only part of their strategy to stifle the U.S. precedent of regime change. Having Russians man the systems with personnel on the ground is a deterrent to Israeli air strikes. Loss of life is more politically significant than destroyed hardware, and Putin is aware of this.
Israel, the U.K., U.S., and France are much less likely to bomb systems manned by Russians. Especially considering Russia is a country that holds a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council.
Russia could be taking a page from 1962 Cuban missile crisis playbook, when the U.S. Air Force came up with a plan to run 100 bombing sorties to destroy Russian missile emplacements.
There were two problems to the Air Force plan back in 1962. One was the political implications of a U.S. strike on a smaller country. George Ball, then-undersecretary of state, said that a surprise attack of that magnitude would look like a “Pearl Harbor” in reverse.
The second problem was that a slew of Russian citizens would have been killed in the strikes — which meant the move would have essentially put American and Russian forces in direct “hot war” contact.
Then-Secretary of defence Robert McNammara said of the proposed bombing runs, “I don’t know quite what kind of a world we live in after we’ve struck Cuba, and we’ve started it … How do we stop at that point?”
Kennedy knew this. He’d already lost a U2 pilot to Russian SAMs and he didn’t want to risk more gunfire.
Instead of more shots fired, Kennedy went the alternate route of blockading Cuba. The blockade put Russia and the U.S. navies “eyeball to eyeball,” said then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
Today, Russia expects Israel and the U.S. to blink if they get the S300 weapon systems into Syria with several Russian operators.
The Obama administration has issued warnings to Putin about putting weapon systems on Syrian soil.
Those warnings could be equally interpreted as “Hey Vlad, no more Russians on the ground. Alright?”
Because if the U.S. does go forward with a no-fly zone over Syria — essentially attacking Northern Syria and everyone in it — Russia’s acceptance of their own dead will only go so far until it potentially could turn into a much more serious standoff with the U.S. and Israel.
“There is a big danger that if you blow the SA-300 up you will kill a lot of Russians. I don’t think the Israelis want to do that,” Robert Hewson, editor of IHS Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, said to the Guardian.
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