Analysis: Syrian threats to attack Israel with Scud missiles are a bluff

Damascus threatened to launch Scud missiles at Israel if IAF carries out any further strikes.

March 26, 2017 19:40
3 minute read.
An IDF soldier stands atop a tank near Alonei Habashan on the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire

An IDF soldier stands atop a tank near Alonei Habashan on the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A warning from Damascus that the next Israeli airstrike on Syrian targets will be met with Scud missiles targeting both civilian and military bases is due to the regime of Bashar Assad needing to project strength as they continue to fight against rebels and the Islamic State.

Phillip Smyth, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post that "projecting the image that they can still retaliate against one of the region's strongest actors works on a rhetorical level."

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The warning of Scuds fired on Israel was published on Saturday evening by Lebanon’s Al-Diyar newspaper, stating that Syria had sent Israel a message via Russia that Scud missiles would be fired towards Israeli targets if Israel carried out any further airstrikes in the war-torn country.

“This new situation was conveyed to Israel by the Russian leadership from the leadership of President Assad that the patience of Syria is running out. Despite a six-year war Syria is not weak and knows how to defend itself,” it said.
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Al-Diyar stated that Damascus prepared 4 Scuds out of their arsenal of 800 Scud missiles which carry half a ton of explosives, and would launch them without any prior warning if Israel carries out any new strike “as Israel does not announce their raids against Syrian targets.”

According to the report, any strikes against Syrian military targets will be met with Scuds launched at IDF bases while any strikes against civilian infrastructure will be met with missiles fired at Haifa’s port and petrochemical plant.

Israel is reported to have targeted caches of Scud missiles in Syria several times over the past several years, but according to Smyth, to focus on Scuds “obscures the potential of other longer range, more advanced rockets coming into Hezbollah's possession. Scuds are a much older technology and wouldn't fare so well against Israel's Arrow missile system.”

According to Smyth, “the Assad regime has been facilitating advanced weapons transfers to Hezbollah for some time and even during the current conflict,” Smyth said, adding that “the worry is that Damascus would transfer a longer range rocket of some sort and then Hezbollah could use it when they needed it.”

Hezbollah is known to have various long and medium-range missile systems, including the Iranian-made Fajr-5, the M-600 rockets, Zeizal-2, and the shorter-range M75 and Katyushas. But according to a senior IDF officer in the IAF’s Air Defense Division, the terror group is continuously working and acquiring missiles with larger warheads and longer range.

The report comes after tension on the northern border reached a peak following an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah-bound weapons convoy and the firing of a SA-5 missile towards Israeli jets.

Following the strike, Syria’s ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari said Syria’s response “appropriate and in line with Israel’s terrorist operation,” and that Israel “will now think a million times before striking again.”

“Syria’s forceful response to the Israeli attacks changed the rules of the game,” Jaafari added.

Israel, which rarely comments on reports of military activity in Syria, publicly admitted that it struck Hezbollah targets in Syria, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that strikes will continue when “we have information and operational feasibility.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also warned against any further launching of missiles by the Syrian regime, threatening to destroy Syrian air defenses and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned that the Lebanese government would be held accountable for any attack by Hezbollah on Israel, whether it be from Lebanon or Syria.

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