WASHINGTON – Just as the Syrian crisis was getting under way, a joint U.S.-Israeli test of an anti-missile system prompted the Russian General Staff to go on “high alert” and notify President Vladimir Putin that missiles may be incoming on Syria.
The reason: Neither the United States nor Israel bothered to notify Russia that the Sept. 2 test was going on in the Mediterranean near Syria.
Moscow’s response was immediate.
The Russian General Staff thought Israel had launched a preemptive attack on Syria in the eastern Mediterranean which some Russian officials said could have led to World War III.
The U.S. and Israel were conducting a joint test of Israel’s Arrow-3 anti-missile system when it launched two Israeli Ankor, or Sparrow, missiles as targets from the central Mediterranean toward the eastern Mediterranean coast.
The Arrow is Israel’s most advanced anti-missile system and the U.S. has spent billions of dollars in its development.
According to various sources, the Russian ballistic missile early warning radar at Armavir on the Black Sea detected the launch of the two Ankor target missiles, heading toward Syria.
Armavir provides early warning of incoming missile attacks on Russia from Europe and the Middle East.
Putin was immediately notified of the launches.
When the truth came out about the unannounced anti-missile test, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov criticized Israel for undertaking such a launch during a crisis occurring in the neighboring country of Syria.
Referring to the Mediterranean region as a “powder keg,” Antonov warned that anything such as an unannounced missile test could explode into war.
“A match is enough for fire to break out and possibly spread not only to neighboring states but to other world regions as well,” Anotov said. “I remind you that the Mediterranean is close to the borders of the Russian Federation.”
The Russians pointed to a similar example in 1995 when Norway, without prior notification, launched a meteorological rocket which Moscow thought was a possible rocket attack on Russia.
The Pentagon said the latest test was planned prior to the beginning of the Syrian crisis.
Even the Iranians, who similarly detected the Israeli test, said the missiles were launched from an Israeli Dolphin submarine and could have started a major war. Tehran added that the U.S. Navy shot them down. The Iranians also speculated that it was an effort to test Russian early warning capabilities.
While the Russian press has given wide coverage of this episode, mainstream media in the U.S. have paid no attention to this incident that Russian officials say could have accidentally tripped another World War.
Sources say mainstream media have been focused almost exclusively on Israel, Syria, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, but there has been no consideration of the potential of a U.S.-Russian conflict occurring over Syria.
Russia has a major presence in Syria at the naval port of Tartous. To date, Russia has stationed some 16 warships near Syria which now is regarded as a permanent deployment.
The U.S. mainstream press has referred to the five U.S. destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean but hasn’t referred much to the Russian warship presence there.
“Disparity in high-tech naval warfare capabilities between the U.S. and Russian fleets is no guarantee that an attack on Syria will not escalate into a wider war that includes Russia,” according to a report of the open source intelligence entity Langley Intelligence Group Network, or Lignet.
“Russian military doctrine has a solution for any technological advantages enjoyed by U.S. forces: striking first,” the Lignet report said. “Indeed, the Russian military doctrine of ‘de-escalation’ calls for prevailing in and terminating a regional conflict by the early use of nuclear weapons to defeat the adversary – usually the United States, in military writings – and to cow the enemy into submission by this Russian version of ‘shock and awe,'” the report said.
Sources say that some of the Russian warships deployed to Syria have tactical nuclear weapons, although the U.S. has dismantled its tactical nuclear weapons.
For example, the Moskva guided-missile cruiser heading to Syria carries 16 surface-to-surface N-12 cruise missiles, each of which carries a 350-kiloton warhead, sources say.
“A Russian navy armed with nuclear weapons is more than a match for a U.S. Navy with no nuclear weapons, especially if the United States is lulled into complacency by the false calculus that high technology equals invulnerability,” the report added.