(photo credit: Reuters)
Spy satellites, advanced reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles
are just some of the systems that Israel is using to track events in Syria and
specifically to keep an eye on the country’s chemical weapons arsenal.
recent weeks, Israeli politicians and military officers have repeated the mantra
that Israel is carefully tracking Syria’s chemical weapons and has warned that
if it sees a Hezbollah attempt to get its hands on the weapons, it will use
force to stop it.
On Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny
Gantz said that forces loyal to President Bashar Assad were still in control of
the chemical weapons and that security around the facilities had recently been
But how does Israel know this, and how is it tracking Syria’s
chemical arsenal? Israel regularly keeps an eye on Syria, but has increased its
surveillance and reconnaissance in recent weeks due to fears that as Assad
falls, Hezbollah or another terrorist group will try to get its hands on the
massive stockpile. Syria is believed to have one of the largest chemical weapons
arsenals in the world, including mustard gas, VX and Sarin.
First of all,
Israel can use its satellites and currently has five operational in space,
including Ofek-9, TecSar, Ofek-7 and Ofek- 5. The IDF also receives services
from the commercially-owned Eros-B1.
The Ofek satellites are reported to have a camera that enables them to see
targets the size of half-a-meter, but the real advantage is TecSar, which is one
of a handful of satellites in the world that use advanced radar technology
instead of a camera.
This enables TecSar to create high-resolution images
of objects on the ground in any weather conditions, as well as at night, and to
see through certain rooftops that are not made of concrete.
launched the Ofek-9 in 2010, senior defense officials explained that the
presence of five satellites in space provided the country with the ability to
keep “eyes” continuously on a target of interest.
The second capability
available to the IDF is the use of reconnaissance aircraft like the Beechcraft
Kingair B200 twin Turboprops that the IAF’s Squadron 100 flies.
aircraft use an advanced and long-range electro-optical camera that enables
operators to search and track land and sea targets, day or night and in all
Developed by Elbit Systems subsidiary El-Op, the
camera is said to be one of the most advanced of its kind in the world. While
the exact specifications of its resolution are classified, it has amazing
resolution, enabling operators to track targets even from standoff positions of
dozens of kilometers.
This would mean that Israel could potentially use
these planes to gather intelligence on Syria while still flying in the Golan
Heights or while flying over the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel also has a
large array of UAVs at its disposal for intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance missions. While Israel is known to fly its UAVs often over
Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, it has never revealed that it does the same over
Syria, although foreign reports have claimed that the drones often fly over
UAVs have an advantage in flying over countries like Syria that
have impressive and condensed air defense systems, since the drones usually have
a relatively low radar signature and have the ability to fly at high altitudes,
out of range of surface-to-air missile systems.
The two drones suited to
such a mission are the Heron TP, Israel’s largest UAV, and the Heron 1. The
Heron TP has a 26-meter wingspan – the same as a Boeing 737 – and can reportedly
stay airborne for over 24 hours. The Heron 1 is a smaller version but is also
capable of long-range missions and can stay in the air for over 24
Israel is likely working closely with the United States – which
has more reconnaissance satellites and is also said to be tracking movements at
Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.
Human intelligence – in the form of
spies on the ground in Syria – is also available to the West to help create a
picture of what is happening at the facilities.
This is most probably
being done with the assistance of officers who have defected from the Syrian
military, as well as with the rebels themselves.