Russian forces will shoot down any US missiles fired at Syria and attack the aircraft or warships they are fired from, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon has warned, The Telegraph reports.
“If there is an American strike, then we… will shoot down the missiles and target the positions from where they were launched,” said Alexander Zasypkin, the Russian envoy to Beirut. “In the past few days, we have seen an escalation towards a significant crisis.”
Zasypkin’s comments, made in an interview with a Hizbollah-affiliated television channel, are the sternest Russian warning yet against American strikes. They go beyond previous threats that Russian troops would use their missile defence systems to shield the Assad regime. However, Zaspykin said that a clash “should be ruled out” and that Russia was “ready to hold negotiations.”
The U.S. has two Navy destroyers capable of firing a barrage of cruise missiles in the eastern Mediterranean already. An American naval strike group, led by the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, is moving towards the area.
The Russian ambassador spoke as Eurocontrol, the pan-European air traffic control agency, warned civilian airliners to be cautious above the eastern Mediterranean because of the possibility of strikes in the next 72 hours, Daily Mail says. The agency warned that both missiles launched from aircraft or from naval forces might be launched before the end of the week. It said that air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles could be used within the next three days and there was a possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment.
“Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the agency said in a statement.
Aviation regulators in countries including the US, UK, France and Germany have previously issued warnings against airlines entering Syrian airspace leading most carriers to avoid the area. The only commercial flights above Syria as of 1:15 am GMT on Wednesday were being flown by Syrian Air and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
The Eurocontrol statement included a broader area outside the airspace controlled by Damascus. The Nicosia flight information region named in the Eurocontrol statement on Tuesday covers the island of Cyprus and surrounding waters, according to a map on the agency’s website. The same map did not designate any specific territory as being the ‘Eastern Mediterranean’ region.
General Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of Joint Forces Command, said Mr Zasypkin’s comments amounted to a threat of war, The Times adds.
“I hope the ambassador has chosen his words very carefully,” he told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. “By saying the words ‘launch platforms’ he’s saying they’re going to try and sink ships, sink submarines and shoot aircraft out of the sky. That’s war.”
Russia is capable of shooting missiles from the air but not with total success, General Barrons said. The Russian S-400 air defence system has been in Syria for more than a year and poses a threat to the modern jets used by the U.S. and its allies. The Syrian regime’s capability was degraded by Israeli airstrikes last month.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military appeared to be in position to carry out any attack order this morning with a Navy destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, getting underway in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday after completing a port call in Cyprus, NPR reports. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, the weapon of choice in a U.S. attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians.
Also, the Navy said the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and its strike group will depart Norfolk, Virginia, on Wednesday for a regularly scheduled deployment to Europe. The strike group will be accompanied by a German frigate FGS Hessen, a state-of-the-art vessel specialising in air defense which officials say is the only type of warship in the Western world with three kinds of surface-to-air missiles. Its radar has a detection range of more than 200 nautical miles for air targets.
According to Ynet News, quoting Syrian report, the Assad army is preparing for a possible American attack. French daily Le Figaro reported Wednesday that the Syrian army was evacuating the Dumayr airbase in the Qalamun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanon border. The soldiers and missiles from that base, the French paper said, were being transferred to the Russian-operated Khmeimim airbase.
According to the French report, the planes that carried out the chemical attack in the rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta took off from the Dumayr airbase.
Opposition-affiliated media outlets in Syria reported Tuesday that the Assad regime and its allies were taking precautions in bases across the country. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian regime forces and the militias supporting it were on a heightened state of alert in all military bases and posts across the country, including in Damascus.
In letters issued by senior Syrian regime officials, the forces were ordered to maintain a heightened state of alert for 72 hours. The report added that the Shiite militias supporting the Assad regime had started preparing their bases for a strike that could take place at any moment. Sky News Arabia reported that Iranian fighters and Hezbollah members had evacuated their posts in the city of Abu Kamal, near the Iraqi border.