What is odd is that, according to pro-Syrian regime sources, they’re unloading their cargo in secret — under the cover of smoke and aerosol gas intended to block prying eyes, satellite and drone sensors.
What the ships are carrying is unknown. They have been tracked by military analysts and watchers passing through the Black Sea and the Bosphorus Strait into the Mediterranean in recent days.
But speculation is rife they may be delivering advanced S-300 interceptor missiles, their radars and heavy wheeled transports. Such a weapon system, while one generation behind Russia’s state-of-the-art, could dramatically increase Syria’s ability to shoot down Western (and Israeli) missiles — and combat aircraft.
If proven correct, this would represent another escalation in the drawn-out conflict wracking the Middle Eastern nation.
Russia has already reportedly sold the S-300 to Iran. A standard unit is capable of launching up to six of the missiles, each able to be guided some 200km towards its target.
A much older, but recently upgraded, Russian missile system was last month used by Syria to damage an Israeli F-16 fighter jet as it engaged in a strike run over its territory.
Israeli media is reporting analysts and former defence officials as saying there can be only one response to Syria posessing state-of-the-art S-300 missiles: Blowing them up.
Such an act could threaten to escalate the seven-year-old civil war, and widen the conflict to neighboring states - as well as Russia and the United States.
In February it was reported up to 200 Russian mercenaries were killed or wounded after US forces counterattacked to defend a facility its troops shared with rebel and Kurdish forces near the Euphrates city of Deir Ezzor.
Later, Moscow deployed at least two of its most advanced stealth fighters to the airfield it controls near Tartus, named Kmeimim. This raised fears of yet further confusion leading to clashes between Russian and Coalition forces.