Moscow is flexing its muscles again in the eastern Mediterranean, and aims to reactivate old cold war naval installations with its ally, Syria. President Bashar Assad is on his way to the Kremlin to finalize what looks to become a high profile deal. With not a moment to lose, the Russian aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuznetsov” is under orders to head from Murmansk towards the Mediterranean and the Syrian port of Tartus. The mission comes after Syrian President Bashar Assad said he is open to a Russian base in the area. The Admiral Kuznetsov, part of the Northern Fleet and Russia’s only aircraft carrier, will head a Navy mission to the area. The mission will also include the Black Sea fleet flagship, the missile cruiser Moskva, and several submarines.
But what is worrying Israeli defense sources mostly are reports that the Kremlin has already decided to deploy its latest Iskander Tactical Missile System to defend the new naval deployment at Tartus. The Iskander SS-21 / Scarab/Tochka is considered to be superior to earlier short range surface/surface missiles as it has 'trajectory shaping' capability, which makes it more survivable against missile interceptors.
During the cold war, Russia operated naval bases in Syria's Tartus and Latakia ports, supporting the Black Sea fleet's 720th Logistics Support Point. The bases in Syria were among three logistical support bases established by the Russian Navy during the days of the cold war. These bases were deactivated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. At present, a small logistic support facility still exists in Tartus. the If a major base is reactivated, a growing presence of Russian Navy in the east Mediterranean could have a most dramatic strategic impact. High-profile air defense missiles and surveillance systems deployment around any Russian-manned installations in Syrian ports could shift the military balance between Syria and Israel.
A similar situation developed in 1969-1970 in Egypt, during the later stages of the so-called 'War of Attrition' along the Suez Canal, resulting in repeated and deliberate direct confrontations between the Israeli air force and Russian air defense missiles and fighters.
The Syrian naval base at Tartus: (Photo: Google Earth via Defense-Update)