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Russia

Are U.S. Patriot Missiles Being Sent To Turkey-Syria Border Really Aimed At Iran?

Russia worries the Patriot missiles set to be deployed by the West to the Turkish-Syrian border could actually be moved to any part of Turkey.

Bashar al-Assad highway billboard in Syria
Bashar al-Assad highway billboard in Syria
Sergei Strokan and Yelena Chernenko

MOSCOW - Russia is categorically opposed to the Turkey’s installation of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles along its border with Syria. Most have assumed that the Moscow's opposition was driven by its friendship with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But Russian military experts tell Kommersant that Moscow is actually concerned that the missiles will be used in military action against Iran. In spite of the fact that the planned location of the missiles is relatively far from the Iranian border, they could be easily deployed to any place in Turkey, and be used against Iranian rockets.

The experts Kommersant spoke with said that having the Patriot missiles in Turkey seriously increases the risk of armed conflict with Iran, which would not be able to strike back if the Patriot missiles are deployed.

Turkey has explained its request to NATO to put the Patriot missiles on its border with Syria as exclusively related to its need to defend itself from a possible attack from the Syrian army. But according to our information, there could be a second motivation for this actions, which is a preparation for military action against Iran,” said one diplomatic source in Moscow.

Russia has reacted extremely negatively to Turkey’s plans to install the Patriot missiles. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that this “increases the risk of military conflict,” and evoked Chekhov’s gun syndrome: if there is a gun on the stage in the first act, then it will be shot in the third act.

Western countries have reacted extremely skeptically to Russia’s concern. NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen called it “baseless,” and Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey’s self-defense plans was none of Russia’s business.

Mobility is key

During the December 4th and 5th meeting of the NATO countries’ foreign ministers, the Patriot missiles in Turkey were green-lighted. The official motivation listed by NATO was the need for Turkey to defend itself against a hypothetical chemical attack from Damascus. According to Kommersant’s sources, the Patriot’s deployment will take two to three weeks. (U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last Thursday that he had signed the order to deploy two batteries of the Patriots missiles and 400 U.S. military personnel to operate them)

According to the official version, the missiles will be deployed along the 900-kilometer border with Syria, in southern Turkey. The missiles have a range of 70 to 160 kilometers. If you consider the distance between the place of deployment and the Iranian border, Moscow’s worry can seem a bit far-fetched, until you consider that the batteries can be rather easily transported.

“These are mobile units, that can be moved to any point in Turkey if necessary. It’s only about 500 kilometers from where the units will be located to Tebriz in Iran, where some sources say there is a nuclear program,” explained Dimitri Polikanov, the vice president of the Pir-center. “Considering that the US wants to use Turkey as an advance missile shield, the Patriots might be there forever. Turkey wanted to modernize it’s weapons anyway and already started taking bids for similar weapons systems. Under these circumstances, the weapons are most likely directed against Iran."

The arrival of these weapons in Turkey, which will be maintained by American, German and Dutch specialists, is an aggressive act, said Polikanov. "Any careless acts by Iran could become a cause for war. And then, thanks to the anti-aircraft missiles, Iran will no longer be able to make a counter attack.” Several other experts agreed with this analysis.

Other experts were much more guarded in their analysis. Dimitri Trenin, Director of the Moscow Carnegie center, explained that the relationship between the missiles and Iran was much more complicated. He said that while it was true that the having the Patriot missiles in Turkey could be useful if there were a war with Iran, NATO’s current defense missiles throughout Europe were perfectly sufficient to deal with the current threat level from Iran. The reasons he thinks Turkey wants the missiles have everything to do with the war in Syria and the political situation in Turkey.

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