The recent sale by Russia of Yakhont (Oniks P-800 for those using the official name) missiles to Syria must raise some serious red flags, especially as Syria is currently undergoing a civil-war of sorts where it most likely will not need to use them.
There is also the fact that with economic sanctions tightening, the Syrians don’t have the money to spend on such a weapons purchase, and that money for this deal must have come from an outside source.
Russia claims that the end-user will be Syrian. But how valid are these claims and promises by Syria when it is well-known that the Syrians supplied advanced AT-14 anti-tank missiles to Hezbollah pre-2006?
I’m going to go on a limb here and say that the Yakhonts are being funneled through Syria to Iran. The Yakhonts could prove an effective addition to the Iranian inventory of Anti-Ship Missiles (ASMs). The Iranians maintain ASMs as an integral part of their naval doctrine in case of any future confrontation with the US/GCC. Any ASMs shipped to them not only give them more reason to feel secure, but also pose a large threat to naval traffic.
The increased range of the Yakhont is an example. The nominal maximum range of the Yakhont is 300kms, versus the next best developed weapon in Irans arsenal, the C-802 which has a range of around 120-150kms.
The figure below shows the impact of this increase in range. In red is the range of the C-802 if fired from positions on the Iranian side of the Arabian Gulf. In blue is the Yakhont. With the Yakhont, the Iranians would be able to target the US 5th fleet stationed in Bahrain. And the rule is that any ASM can be converted into a cruise missile as the 2003 war in Iraq showed.
The Syria of today is in a corner, and should be more willing (and even desperate) to please Iran, by giving it access to the Yakhont missiles. It could also be keen to “strike back” at the Gulf States, attempting to send a message that it will supply Iran with its arms if the embargo continues. An international, effectively enforced arms embargo on Syria is necessary in order to avoid future incidents like this. Another likely recipient of these missiles could be Hezbollah.