Israel vows to continue air strikes against Iranian targets
Russia’s deployment in the coming weeks of advanced the S-300 missile defense system in Syria will limit air strikes carried out by Israel and the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State but not stop them entirely, according to defense analysts.
“On the geopolitical level, the provision of the S-300 to Syria would certainly be an escalation by Russia in terms of the threat picture which it presents to Israel, most obviously, but also all the other western and Gulf state air forces which operate over the region,” Justin Bronk, a Research Fellow and Editor at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI) in London, contended to The Media Line.
“It would mean that Israeli jets would be under much more serious threat when conducting operations close to the Syrian border, whether over Lebanon or the Mediterranean,” he added, noting that the “S-300 has a longer range than any of the air defenses which Syria currently operates.”
Before departing to New York for the annual opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nevertheless vowed to continue to counter Iran’s aim to entrench itself in Syria.
“In the past three years Israel has been very successful in preventing both the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria and the attempts to transfer lethal weapons to Hizbullah in Lebanon,” Netanyahu wrote in a statement. “We will continue to take action…and we will continue the security coordination between the IDF and the Russian military.”
Moscow’s announcement comes after Syrian forces last week shot down a Russian reconnaissance plane in the wake of an Israeli air raid on a weapons manufacturing facility in Latakia. Fifteen Russian servicemen on board were killed.
President Vladimir Putin initially referred to the incident as a “tragic chain of events,” however the country’s defense ministry holds that the incident was caused by a “lack of professionalism or criminal negligence” on Israel’s part.
Earlier this week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu indicated that in addition to the S-300 Moscow would also supply the Syrian army with radars intended to jam the navigation and communications systems of foreign combat aircraft. According to Bronk, this may force Israel “to go after the S-300 system itself and try to destroy it, which would be a potential counter-escalation especially if Russian specialists were involved.”
Russian media reported that eight S-300 batteries will be stationed in Syria, thereby covering most of, if not the entirety of regime-controlled territory.
“Syria is already covered today by surface-to-air missiles and the [Israel Air Force] has always found a way to act,” Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu, who previously served as commander of the Israeli air force, stressed to The Media Line. “All the [missile defense] batteries that are deployed there, including the S-300, are known to Israel.”
“Of course,” he expounded, “the S-300 would make it more difficult [for Israel to carry out air strikes]—in fact, significantly more difficult—but it won’t seal off Syrian skies hermetically.”
Riki Ellison, Founder and Chairman of the non-profit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, agrees that there are ways to circumvent the technical capabilities of the S-300.
“The S-300 is penetrable by the F-35 and the F-22, which Israel and the U.S. have,” he related to The Media Line. “Turkey is supposed to get the F-35 so the defense system [in question] is still not good enough [to counter] fifth-generation aircraft.”
All three analysts concluded that the S-300 would nevertheless inhibit Israel’s operational capabilities in Syria’s skies.
“It’s strategic messaging showing that Russia supports Syria,” Ellison concluded. “Moscow is stating it has the capability to shoot down aircraft if it chooses. It’s a propaganda piece but it’s also a movement to unify Syria under Russian control in the long-term.”