A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, October 12, 2012

Seizure of Air Defense Base Adds to Jitters Over Syria's Arsenals

Amid reports that the US and UK have both deployed some specal operations forces to Syria's neighbors in the event of a need to secure the country's chemical weapons arsenals, there are new jitters about reports that Syrian rebels have taken an Air Defense base alongside the radical Jabhat al-Nusra group, considered a jihadist movement. The base at Taaneh east of Aleppo was taken and photos of the rebels inside were released, though it is not clear that they will be able to hold it.

Free Syrian Army forces have claimed to overrun missile bases before; its chemical weapons stores are another matter entirely, and the regime insists they are secured. Syria has a very robust air defense system with missile facilities ringing its major cities, so occasionally overrunning a missile facility is not in itself that alarming, though of course the presence of radical jihadis is cause for concern.

The videos I've seen so far are old S-75 Dvina SAMs, known in Cold War days under the NATO designation SA-2 Guideline. Folks, this is the missile that shot down Francis Gary Powers' U-2 in 1960: it's half century old technology, big and hard to fire. Loose chemical weapons is a real concern; SA-2's are museum pieces.

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