Analysis: Israel could hit S-300 missiles in Syria

Israel could risk alienating Russia with strike on any future deployment of anti-aircraft systems in Syria.

By REUTERS
May 30, 2013 17:30
Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system

Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

JERUSALEM - Israel could overcome advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles if they were deployed in Syria but any strikes on the system would be difficult and risk alienating its supplier, Russia.

Israel has pledged to take preventive action, seeing a future Syrian S-300 as a "game-changing" threat to its own air space as well as to the relative free rein with which it now overflies its northern foe as well as neighboring Lebanon.

Experts agree that Israeli sabotage or open force to disrupt delivery by Russia is extremely unlikely - a view seemingly shored up by Syrian President Bashar Assad's announcement on Thursday that

Security sources have put the number of Russian military personnel in Syria at several hundred.

"The Russians would react badly to losing their people, and Israel knows that equally," Hewson said.

Former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens said Moscow should be mindful of the harm that seeing the S-300 defeated in Syria would do to exports of the system elsewhere.

Past clients include Cyprus, whose S-300, posted on the Greek island of Crete, may have given Israel's air force a chance for test runs during manoeuvres over the Mediterranean.

"I'd be very surprised if the Russians deliver this system (to Syria)," Arens told Israel Radio. "It would become apparent that our air force is capable of besting this system, and that would not make for good advertising."

Playing down the strategic challenge that would be posed to Israel by a Syrian S-300, Arens added. "We are not afraid. This would simply change the situation, and we are not interested in the situation being changed to our detriment."

HAZY DEPLOYMENT TIMELINE

The timeline for the anticipated Syrian deployment of the S-300 remains hazy. Hewson said it could be "up and running within a minimum of a few weeks" once all components were in, and provided qualified Syrian personnel were available.

But the Russian defense ministry source said he knew of no Syrians who had already been trained by Moscow, and put the completion of the S-300 delivery at "six to 12 months from now".

Assuming Assad survives in power, such a lag could provide Israel with thwarting opportunities.

Hewson said the truck-towed S-300 would be physically hard to conceal. Its radar, if activated, would emit a distinctive signal that Israel could easily monitor, he added.

Diplomatic alternatives may not have been exhausted, though.

Yuval Steinitz, a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, held on Thursday what political sources described as a discussion of the Syrian S-300 deal with Russian Ambassador Sergei Yakovlev.

In 2010, following Israeli appeals, Russia scrapped an S-300 sale to Iran. In what may have been a quid pro quo, the Israelis also agreed that year to sell Russia surveillance drones that would narrow its technological military gap with rival Georgia.

Russia now has other strategic interests - for example, investment in Israel's Mediterranean gas fields. Silvan Shalom, another Israeli cabinet minister, told Reuters that Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned the gas fields while hosting Netanyahu in Sochi on May 14 for talks that focused on Syria.

But Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Moscow, was skeptical that Israel could offer anything that would spur Putin to slacken his support for Assad. "There's too much at stake here for the Russians," he said.

He was alluding to the conflagration's wider geo-strategic dimensions - pitting a Russian preference to keep Syria under Assad's control to preserve Moscow's last significant toehold in the Middle East against a Western and Gulf Arab desire for the downfall of Assad to roll back Iranian influence in the region.


Related Content

US SECRETARY of State Mike Pompeo speaks to students at the American University in Cairo
August 21, 2019
Pompeo: 'New turmoil' if U.N. arms embargo on Iran lifted in 2020

By REUTERS

Cookie Settings