Potential S-300 Sale To Syria Catches Israel’s Attention

By David Eshel, Jen DiMascio
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
June 03, 2013
Credit: ITAR-TASS/Landov File Photo

As the international community continues to debate whether to intervene in Syria's ongoing civil war, the Israelis are increasingly concerned about Syria—particularly the threatened introduction of Russian S-300s into its air-defense system.

Syria's efforts to modernize its air defenses are increasing the threat of a conflict suddenly erupting between Israel and its enemies, according to Israel's air force chief, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel.

“The Assad regime has already invested huge funding to achieve the best air defenses it could buy,” Eshel said at a recent Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies conference. That includes the SA-17, SA-22 and SA-24 and greater situational awareness after an earlier Israeli strike (AW&ST Oct. 22, 2012, p. 57).

Last week Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Moscow reporters that Russia has decided on delivering S-300s to help deter foreign intervention in Syria. His announcement came as the European Union let its arms embargo lapse, with Britain and France mulling publicly the possibility of arming rebels there. If delivered, the S-300 would increase the chances of a new regional conflict considerably, according to Eshel.

The S-300 is made to intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at ranges of over 100 km (62 mi.). Exactly which model Russia intends to sell to the Syrians remains unknown, although Syria has asked in the past for the model referred to by NATO as the SA-10. The S-300PMU2 Favorit can launch six missiles at once and engage 12 targets simultaneously, both at high and low altitude. The missile interceptors used by the S-300PMU2 outmaneuver any modern fighter.

“The Russian sale of the S-300 to Syria is a massive game changer,” says Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If it is more than a matter of words, and actual transfers take place, it virtually ensures that the U.S.-Russian talks will be meaningless, sends warning signals about similar arms transfer to Iran, can drag Israel into the Syrian fighting, and would sharply alter U.S. and allied “no fly capabilities if the Syrians can quickly absorb the system and make it effective.”

On the surface, the S-300 may not appear to be a significant advancement over the S-200, Cordesman tells Aviation Week. But the S-300 is better at low altitudes, is harder to detect and jam, and the ground radar capabilities are much improved.

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