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Analysis: Israel can neutralize an S-300 system in Syria, but it has to prepare

A Russian surface-to-air S-300 PMU2 Favorit missile system pictured during a rehearsal of the Victory Day Parade in Alabino, outside Moscow, on April 18, 2012
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV (AFP/File)
The Russian defense system in Syria's hands will require Israel to take new cautionary and preventive measures

It is necessary to deal seriously with the declaration of the Russian army’s chief of operations, General Sergei Rodsovoy, who said that his country would sell to Syria the S-300, a long-range missile interception system.

And not only because the Russians wanted to carry out a painful reprisal against American, Western and Israeli interests in the region. But also because the Russians, as usual, take advantage of every situation to increase their foreign currency earnings at the expense of their allies' plight.

The S-300 system is more efficient and advanced than any other anti-aircraft system currently in the hands of the Syrians.

It is capable of intercepting not only aircraft but also ballistic missiles and possibly cruise missiles at ranges of over 150 kilometers and at a high altitude.

Kallysta CASTILLO (US Department of Defense/AFP)

Syria has wanted to buy the interceptors from Russia for a long time, and the Iranians were ready to finance the deal, but under pressure from Israel and the United States, Russia prevented the sale from going ahead.

Moreover, until about three years ago, Russia had long avoided transferring the S-300 to Iran, even though Iran had signed a contract to purchase these types of missiles more than 10 years ago.

The sale went into effect only after the nuclear agreement, but over the years the system has become outdated. It has already been sold to more than 20 countries worldwide and its technological components and frequencies are well known worldwide.

In addition, this is a large system that can not be easily hidden or transferred, so even though the Russians have upgraded it in recent years, it has ceased to be the insurmountable threat it was 10 years ago.

Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File

Perhaps because of the intimate familiarity between the Americans and Israel with the system, it is possible to estimate that Western countries have been able to develop means of disrupting and neutralizing the capabilities of the system.

Nevertheless, the S-300 should be treated with caution if it reaches Syria, because it can pose a threat to civil and military aviation in Israel and Jordan

The defense system in the hands of the Syrians will require cautionary and preventive measures not yet taken so far.

The Syrians are likely to ask the Iranians to pay for the purchase of the S-300, whose old model is also in the hands of Cyprus and Greece.

It is an expensive system and the Russians will undoubtedly benefit by selling it to them.

However, training operators will take a long time, and the Russians may find that they have made a mistake if, for example, the Syrians use this system against Israeli Air Force planes, and as a result Israel retaliates by destroying the S-300.

Jack Guez (AFP)

Such a scenario may give the Russian weapons industry a bad name, something the Russians do not want. They also do not want to operate this system themselves by subcontracting for Syria because of the high risk it involves.

The bottom line is that the Russians will probably try to sell the S-300 to Syria, but it is unlikely that they will rush to sell the latest model so that if the system is damaged when the Syrians use it against strikes, they will be able to claim that since it is not the latest model, they are not worried.

In any case, Assad doesn’t have the money and therefore the Iranians and the Russians will have to share the economic burden of purchasing the system, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

Israel, as stated, will have to prepare and make sure it has the means to neutralize the threat.

Ron Ben-Yishai is a senior Israeli defense analyst. 

This article is published courtesy of Ynet.

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