Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The regime of Bashar Assad is not known for its credibility, having made many
false or utterly distorted claims to suit its agenda.
is a vital aspect of the regime’s survival strategy.
The Syrian president
boasted on Thursday to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station that the first shipment
of the advanced Russian S-300 air defense system has arrived in his country, but
the claim, like so many others from Syria, should be taken with a pinch of
It suits Assad to take up a confrontational pose with Israel,
without entering into an actual conflict with it (which could spell the end of
his regime). This is why Assad on Thursday threatened Jerusalem with immediate
retaliation for any future air strikes.
It remains unclear what, if
anything has arrived in Syria from Russia, and whether the shipment contains
S-300 interceptor missiles, or other basic components that need to be assembled
before the system can be switched on.
As Yiftah Shapir, director of the
Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel
Aviv, recently noted, Syria would require considerable time before it could
master the S- 300 air defense system. It needs to train Syrian personnel to use
it. Russian technicians are unlikely to operate the batteries on behalf of
Assad, as they’d be placing themselves at very high risk.
Assad’s message contains a declaration of intent to eventually cross an Israeli
red line on arms proliferation, and this is a serious development which has a
real potential to spark a confrontation.
There are several reasons why
Israel has no intention of allowing Syria to set up S-300 batteries.
its sophisticated radars and range of 200 kilometers, the S-300 can target
civilian air traffic in northern Israel, hamper Israel Air Force aircraft flying
over the Galilee or the Golan Heights, and disrupt IAF surveillance flights over
Lebanon to monitor Hezbollah.
The system can also disrupt Israeli efforts
to intercept the transit of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah through
Finally, and perhaps most important, Assad might be tempted to
send S-300 batteries to Hezbollah or Iran.
Despite being neck deep in the
bloody Syrian war, Hezbollah continues to prepare itself for war with Israel,
and obtaining the S-300 would boost its confidence to challenge the
A more confident Hezbollah might be tempted to resume cross-border
attacks on Israel, which in turn could quickly drag the region to
The S-300 in Iranian hands will complicate what is already a very
challenging potential mission: Striking Iran’s nuclear sites.
In light of
these factors, when might Israel take action? Strikes might be ordered against
components of the batteries in transit on Syrian soil. Alternatively, Israel
might bide its time and attack just before the batteries go online.
worth remembering that Israel possesses advanced electronic warfare
capabilities. As one source from the IDF’s Electronic Warfare Section told The
last month, “The government instructed us to prepare and know how
to operate in every operational arena.”
Assad is surely aware that Israel
won’t wait for the batteries to become operational, and may therefore choose not
to cross that line at all.
Behind closed doors, it is safe to assume,
diplomatic pressure is being applied on Moscow to refrain from taking a step
that can further destabilize an explosive region.