4 September 2013 naval-technology.com
Syria's Navy is the smallest component of the nation's armed forces. While it is relatively neglected, with a budget estimated at only £90m annually, it is still the first line of defence on its Eastern Mediterranean flank and warrants consideration. As the situation in Syria and deliberation on possible intervention in the Mediterranean country escalates, Simon Williams examines the country's naval posture.
Maritime situational awareness in Syria
Syria's Mediterranean coastline measures 183km along Latakia and Tartus provinces. Although not a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Syria does indeed abide by the Convention's zonal regulations, claiming a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles, contiguous zone with security jurisdiction of 24 nautical miles (which includes the territorial sea) and a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The territorial sea has a total area of 3,866 km².
According the US Navy Judge Advocate General Corps, Syria still requires that foreign warships and atomic submarines obtain permission from Damascus before entering and transiting its territorial sea. The US, also a non-party to the Law of the Sea Convention, does not recognise the jurisdiction of Syria to this affect and protests these claims through regular operational assertions.
Last year, the Syrian Air Defense Force shot down a Turkish RF-4E, which, according to the Syrian military, "penetrated air space over [Syrian] territorial waters."
Not only does this incident demonstrate that the country maintains sufficient surface-to-air capabilities to carry out such rapid reaction operations, but also serves as an example that Syria may not be so passive to naval or aviation encroachment on its territorial sea (12 nautical miles). It again elucidates that the nation deviates from international norms of scrambling fighters to intercept airspace probes, and instead skips directly to unleashing the metal.
It is important to clarify, however, that this may not be a purely political stance, but a genuinely operational one. President Assad even commented on the situation to Turkish media outlet Cumhuriyet, saying: "In this environment, the coming of a plane like that is perceived as an enemy plane. Those who understand military understand these things. A country anywhere in the world would behave like this. This definitely isn't a political decision."
Should this be the case, it illuminates the Syrian military's responsive instinct of engaging with potential enemy targets entering its territorial sea or airspace without warning. Understanding this reaction, perhaps, is of vital magnitude in evaluating the initial response Syria may take to a 'hypothetical' engagement coming from the Mediterranean.