Despite the ongoing internal unrest, Syria is continuing to upgrade its military capabilities and recently declared a number of new surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) operational.
Over the past year, Syria has received a number of SA- 17 batteries from Russia under a deal signed several years ago. Two batteries are already reportedly operational and deployed along Syria’s border with Lebanon. A third is undergoing training.
As a result, the IDF has modified the way it flies in the North and particularly when conducting missions over Lebanon, where it continues to fly to gather intelligence on Hezbollah activities.
Also known as the Buk System, the SA-17 has a range of about 30 km. and can intercept multiple targets flying at altitudes of over 40,000 feet.
The launchers are mounted on trucks and are mobile, making them difficult targets.
Another system that recently became operational is the Yakhont anti-ship missile which has the Israeli Navy concerned about the possibility that it will also be transferred to Hezbollah ahead of a future conflict. Syria already tested the Yakhnot in recent maneuvers and it is said to be a sophisticated missile with a range of about 300 km.
At least 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began a year ago.
“The military is not overly affected by the resistance and is continuing with its procurement plans as well as the integration of new capabilities into operational service,” a senior IDF officer recently explained.
In addition to establishing the new SAM batteries, Syria is also believed to be in talks with Russia about upgrading some of its older model combat aircraft with structural overhauls as well as the installation of new avionics.
Syria is believed to have invested billions of dollars in the past 10 years in new SAMs aimed at undermining Israel’s ability to operate in Syria or Lebanon in a future war. Israel fears that some of the systems might make their way into Hezbollah hands in Lebanon such as the SA-8 truckmounted system.
Israel is concerned with the increase in the transfer of weaponry from Syria to Lebanon in recent months. Hezbollah is believed to have obtained several dozen more M-600 long-range missiles, as well as additional 302 mm. Khaibar-1 rockets, which have a range of about 100 km.
It is already believed to have a significant arsenal of M600s, which are manufactured in Syria as a clone of Iran’s Fateh-110.
The M600 has a range of around 300 km. It can carry a half-ton warhead and has superior accuracy.
Israel’s primary concern is with the possibility that Hezbollah will get its hands on some of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Western countries have prepared various contingency plans for such a scenario, including the possible bombing of such a convoy if it were detected and the possible insertion of commando forces to secure the chemical stockpile if and when Assad falls.