Russia ships S-300 battery from Syria to bolster air defense in Ukraine war

The shipping of the battery, which has been in Syria since 2018, was identified by Israeli satellite imaging company ImageSat International.

 a Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile battery. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
a Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile battery.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

As Russia’s invasion continues into its sixth month, Moscow has redeployed an S-300 anti-aircraft missile battery from Syria to a Russian port near Crimea.

The shipping of the battery, which has been in Syria since 2018, was identified by Israeli satellite-imaging company ImageSat International.

In July 2019, ISI released satellite imagery that showed the complete deployment of four Russian-made S-300 missile-defense systems in Masyaf.

According to images released by the firm, battery components were seen on a naval dock at Tartus port between August 12-17, and they were gone by August 20.

The “S-300 battery was shipped back to Russia, on board the SPARTA II ship, most likely to support Russian air defense as part of the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” ISI said.

The Sparta II, left Tartus on August 20 and arrived in the Russian port of Novorossiysk on August 27.

Other images released by ISI showed that the “Cheese Board” radar of the S-300 was moved separately from the same base in Masyaf where it had been deployed to Russia’s Khmeimim air base on the coast.

Satellite images released by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat Intl. (ISI) on Sunday show the complete deployment of all four Russian-made S-300 missile defense systems in Syria’s Masyaf province. (credit: IMAGESAT INTERNATIONAL (ISI))Satellite images released by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat Intl. (ISI) on Sunday show the complete deployment of all four Russian-made S-300 missile defense systems in Syria’s Masyaf province. (credit: IMAGESAT INTERNATIONAL (ISI))

Russia delivered the launcher, radar and command-and-control vehicle of the advanced air-to-surface missile system to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in October 2018 in response to the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets the previous month.

Syrian air defenses are largely antiquated Soviet-era systems, with SA-2s, SA-5s and SA-6s, as well as the more sophisticated tactical surface-to-air missiles, including the SA-17 and SA-22 systems. Moscow has also supplied the short-range Pantsir S-1 to the Assad regime.

The long-range missile-defense system can track aircraft and ballistic missiles over a range of 300 kilometers.

A full battalion includes six launcher vehicles, with each vehicle carrying four missile containers, for a total of 24 missiles and command-and-control and long-range radar-detection vehicles.

The advanced S-300 was thought to be a major upgrade to the Syrian air defenses that would pose a threat to Israeli jets on missions. But the system was used only once, in May, against Israeli planes that had conducted operations near Masyaf.

It was a “one-time incident,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said during a Channel 13 conference, adding that IAF planes were no longer in the area when the missiles were fired.

Alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria

There have been numerous airstrikes in the Masyaf area, which is thought to be used by Iran as a base for its militia forces. The area is also where Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, known also by its French name Centre D’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques, is located.

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and the smuggling of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are redlines.

Israel has been carrying out its war-between-wars campaign for close to a decade in an attempt to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Syria and to stop Tehran from smuggling advanced weaponry.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force have been the main targets of Israel’s war-between-wars campaign, known in Hebrew as MABAM.

It has carried out thousands of kinetic strikes in recent years, in Syria and beyond, by land, sea and air to prevent the Iranian regime from achieving regional hegemony and becoming a nuclear state.

Israel has increased airstrikes in Syria despite aggravating tension with Russia, which has had enormous influence in Syria since intervening in its civil war in 2015 to bolster Assad.

The Russian Defense Ministry has not commented on the redeployment of the missile system. Its forces have sustained significant losses since the invasion of Ukraine in February.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Moscow has lost 1,939 tanks, 1,045 artillery systems, 836 drones and 3,165 vehicles.

With the advanced military systems provided by the West, Ukraine has also been able to strike inside Russian-occupied territory and destroy air-defense systems and other platforms and infrastructure.

According to UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace, Russian losses amounted to 80,000 when combining deaths, injuries and desertions. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said 46,550 Russian soldiers and officers have been killed.