Should Israel be concerned that Russia might have an Israeli missile?

Chinese media reported that the advanced missile is now in the hands of the Russians who are reportedly working to reverse engineer it. What a weird report. And what odd timing.

David's Sling Weapons System Stunner Missile intercepts target during inaugural flight test (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
David's Sling Weapons System Stunner Missile intercepts target during inaugural flight test
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Almost a year and a half after Israel first fired a David’s Sling interceptor missile and watched as it crashed in Syria, Chinese media reported that the advanced missile is now in the hands of the Russians who are reportedly working to reverse engineer it.
What a weird report. And what odd timing.
The report, carried by the Chinese SINA news agency, was referring to a July 2018 incident where Israel operated the David’s Sling system against two Russian-made SS-21 Tochka tactical ballistic missiles launched by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) as part of Damascus’ offensive against rebels along the border with Israel’s strategic Golan Heights.
Both SAA missiles missed their mark. Both fell on Syrian soil. One IDF interceptor self-destructed while the second probably suffered a malfunction and failed to self-destruct before crashing inside Syria.
The IAF did not destroy the missile after it fell. Instead, Assad forces rushed to the site where they collected it and delivered it to Moscow who, according to this Chinese report, are reverse-engineering the missile which they reported was intact when it crashed to the ground.
While neither the Israeli military nor the Russians have commented on the Chinese report – the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit does not comment on foreign reports – according to SINA, both Jerusalem and Washington have asked Moscow to return the missile.
While it sounds concerning that Russia may have its hands on such an advanced Israeli missile, the report needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
“I don’t know if it’s true” Brig.-Gen (res.) Zvika Haimovitch, the former Aerial Defense Division Commander, told The Jerusalem Post about the Chinese report. But he stressed Israel always assumes her foes are trying to get their hands on sensitive information. “I think that we should always be concerned and worried about our secrets and information and our data that our enemies could get their hands on it. I assume that our enemies are always looking for very sensitive data and about our capabilities and gaps and failures. It’s part of the way that we need to think, that our enemies are always trying to get this sensitive information.”
According to a Western expert on missile defense who requested anonymity, not only is the SINA news agency report full of inaccuracies, but Israel takes into account that “all parts of attack systems from aircrafts to missiles, might end up in the hands of adversaries.”
The Russians, he said, might be able to analyze the system before reverse-engineering components such as its steering mechanism or sensors, but it’s not something that Israel has to be concerned about.
“Is it critical? Not really. It’s something that we have to expect. We have to be ready for it from the beginning of the design.”
Both Haimovitch – who oversaw the establishment and operationality of the David’s Sling Battalion – and the Western missile defense expert told the Post that it’s highly unlikely that the missile was intact when it fell.
“But you don’t need the full missile kit. Sometimes it’s enough to have a small, critical part of the missile,” Haimovitch said, adding that “it’s not complete and not like how it was when it left the canister. That’s for sure. But you don’t need a full missile kit for reverse engineering.”
A leader in defense technology, Israel regularly updates its missile defense array. David’s Sling has gone through such updates, with the most advanced block set to be operational in the coming months.
“Israel is in an arms race and is improving their systems all the time,” the Western missile defense expert said. “We are learning all the time, the same with Hezbollah and groups in Gaza.”
“It’s a race against us and the other sides. It’s not just one other side,” Haimovitch said. “We are not waiting for a dramatic event to update the system. We do it all the time, the system hardware and software. It’s the same with all the systems. It’s part of the process we have.”
David’s Sling is part of Israel’s multi-layered missile defense umbrella, designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 km. to 300 km. Each interceptor launched by the system costs an estimated $1 million.
The system is a joint Israeli-US project, with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems collaborating with American defense contractor Raytheon, which also produces the Patriot missile system. Other components of the system were developed by Elta, a subdivision of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which developed the system’s radar, and the Elisra subdivision of Elbit Systems, which developed the command and control mechanisms.
When asked by the Post why the IAF didn’t destroy the missile after it failed to self-destruct, Haimovitch explained that the situation on the ground in southern Syria was much busier than it is now.
“You never know in real time exactly what is the situation on the ground... Don’t forget that a year and a half ago, there was a major battle in the region between the Assad regime [in Damascus] and the rebels in southern Syria. It was a very busy battlefield at the time, not like now. It was a situation where dozens of missiles were flying... It was a very complex and complicated battlefield.”
But given the fog of war, was the battlefield so complicated that the Chinese had to wait 18 months to report that Russia has acquired an advanced Israeli-American interceptor missile launched against Russian-made missiles fired by the Syria’s Assad regime?