by Dr. Gabi Avital
-- we must remember that this system is not battle-tested. The Israeli Air Force is more than equipped to handle this threat.
News of Russia's plan to provide Syria with advanced S-300 air defense systems has prompted a frenzy of dramatic reactions decrying the potential "restriction" of the Israeli Air Force's ability to operate in Syria's skies, warning of a grave diplomatic crisis between Israel and Russia, and predicting unchecked Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.
While we cannot make light of the new reality vis-à-vis Syria, the danger the S-300s pose to Israeli aircraft and the rise in Iran's regional power, we would be wise to keep the matter in proportion. Looking from the outside in, one could think Israel has suffered a major military blow from which it cannot recover and this is certainly not the case.
The IAF has learned the lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when it was ravaged by Egyptian and Syrian anti-aircraft fire, well. It proved that on the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War, when it decimated Syrian air defenses in the first two days and went on to down 80 Syrian planes in the following two days.
Syria was stunned, especially since the Israeli operations exposed the weakness of its Russian-made air defenses.
Russia is currently trying to upgrade its military capabilities to an operational level that is on a par with NATO forces. Given this effort, can Moscow afford to take on – and lose to – the Israeli Air Force again?
Could it be that the IDF's 200 strikes on Iranian assets in Syria since 2017, which penetrated the Russian-backed Syrian air defenses and cost Israel only one fighter jet, were not a big enough hint as to the fact that the IAF's abilities have only increased over the past 36 years?
One must also ask why Russian decision-makers insist on blaming Israel for Syrian air defenses shooting down their plane last week, instead of seriously examining whether the Israeli-Russian deconfliction channel operated as it should have.
What is so special about the S-300 surface-to-air missiles that has everyone in a panic? Israeli pundits make it seem as if this system, first developed in the 1970s, is making Israeli pilots shake in their boots and our decision-makers lose sleep. Is that really the case?
The S-300 system has never been tested on the battlefield. While it can engage dozens of targets simultaneously and has a range of 200 kilometers (120 miles), its most recent models were produced in 1992.
The IAF has been studying this system for a long time, as have other Western air forces. No air force would allow such a threat to exist without devising several contingencies, which is something even the Russians understand.
The IAF is more than ready to deal with this threat and the pundits are panicking for nothing.
Syria may get its hands on S-300 missiles thanks to an unexpected, tragic incident, but this deal – if it indeed takes place – is all about the money, and the currency Syria will use will be Iranian.
The only question that one must ask the Russians is why they believe giving Syria an improved anti-aircraft system would make Russian planes flying in Syrian skies safer. If anything, Syria may one day use this system against Russia itself.
Dr. Gabi Avital is an aeronautical and space engineering expert
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