Russian cruise missiles battered ISIS targets outside the famous archaeological site of Palmyra, an ancient Roman city, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
Tweets from the Ministry showed Russian warships firing missiles from the Mediterranean Sea. This is the second time that Russian has bombarded Syria with cruise missiles, the last time being in November 2016. Russia does not use its cruise missile arsenal as often as the United States, which has famously fired cruise missiles at many countries since the War on Terror began in 2001.
Russia used the Kalibr-class cruise missile in the strike.
The strikes were designed to support Russian operations outside the deep desert city of Palmyra, a World Heritage site occupied by the Islamic State in 2015. The city changed hands several times as the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad and ISIS tussled over the city until its most recent liberation in early 2017.
The city lays on a critical highway between Syria’s capital city, Damascus, and the Islamic State’s capital, Raqqa. As the regime of Bashar al-Assad seeks to reassert authority across Syria, Palmyra is an important symbol for the Assadists. Its prestige as a World Heritage site and its back-and-forth strategic nature has made it a major propaganda victory for anyone who controls it, despite the fact that the city’s population is very small and Palmyra has almost no economic value beyond tourism.
Kalibr-class missiles are considered fearsome by analysts because of their long range and accuracy.
“As they close within short range of an enemy ship, the missiles accelerate from their cruising speed of Mach 0.8 to Mach 3, and descend to just 4.6 meters in altitudes—making them extremely difficult for a ship’s antimissile defenses to shoot down,” writes Sebastian Roblin in The National Interest. Mach 3 is considerably faster than the American Tomahawk cruise missile.
The civil war in Syria is now heavily focusing on the destruction of ISIS, with American-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters under the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) moving on Raqqa and Russian-backed Assadist militia moving on remaining ISIS forces near regime territory. Controversially, some have accused the SDF of allowing ISIS fighters to escape Raqqa to support their remaining troops near Palmyra. These accusations have not be substantiated, but are part of a wider propaganda war. Many online forces attempt to portray the Islamic State as either an American or an Israeli creation, an accusation that has not been proven by credible sources.
That’s hardly the only movement on the ground of this complicated and multi-faceted civil war.
Iranian-backed militia are moving to retake Syria’s eastern border with Iraq from the remnants of the Saudi and Qatari-backed Free Syrian Army, while Assadist forces are corralling rebel groups in Idlib province, where al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra is the largest faction.
Meanwhile, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and Syria have been negotiating for a ceasefire. The Americans and Gulf Arab states have not taken part in these particular negotiations, and some of the invited rebel groups have walked out of them in the past.
During the ISIS occupation, the head of the city’s archeological program was beheaded by the terror group, while one of its most important Roman temples, the Temple of Bel, was destroyed in a public act of vandalism for a propaganda video.
ISIS maintains that any art or culture from before the coming of Islam in the 7th century CE is blasphemous and has routinely destroyed artifacts in captured cities. This is not a common Muslim belief. Jordan, a Muslim-majority kingdom, jealously guards its Roman treasures against attack and vandalism, and Saudi Arabia, known for its hardline version of Islam, has started a budding tourist industry not centered on the hajj.
[Featured image by Russian Defence Ministry Press Service/Associated Press]