The destruction of the Il-20 by Israel on 17 September 2018 provided Russia with the opportunity to deliver anti-aircraft missiles (the S-300s) to the Syrian army, but also to deploy an entire integrated surveillance and air defence system. According to the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, which refers to satellite images, S-300 missile defence system launchers are now active and ready to operate. This information appears even as news agencies report the upcoming Putin-Netanyahu meeting in Moscow, the first since the crash of the Russian Il-20 and the death of 15 officers on board.
An Israeli satellite imagery company said on Tuesday that it had located for the first time a Syrian S-300 air defense system in Maysaf in the governorate of Hamah. The battery in question is in the image, well operational.
“It is possible that the activity mentioned may indicate an increase in operational level and vigilance,” the company explains.
Indeed, one of the launchers remains lowered and covered with a camouflage net, while the others are erected.
Russia delivered the launcher, radar and control vehicles of the advanced air-to-ground missile system to the Syrian army in early October, following the destruction of a Russian reconnaissance aircraft by the Israelis in September 2018 during a violent Israeli raid on Syrian and Russian targets in Lattakia. Since the delivery of the system in October, Russia has been training Syrian forces to use the powerful air defence platform, which would be located at a base near Maysaf in northwestern Syria.
The newspaper points out that with the help of the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah, the Syrian government has managed to regain control of most of the country and that, for the time being, the Syrian state is working on its reconstruction.
The advanced S-300, the model delivered to the Syrian army, “would constitute a major improvement in Syrian anti-aircraft defences and would pose a threat to Israeli fighters on mission, as the long-range missile defence system can track objects, such as aircraft and ballistic missiles, over a range of 300 km”.
A full battalion consists of six launchers, each vehicle carrying four missile containers for a total of 24 missiles, as well as long-range command and control and radar detection vehicles,” the newspaper added. The system’s engagement radar is capable of simultaneously firing 12 guided missiles at targets.
For many experts, the appearance of this information while the media are talking about the possible Putin-Netanyahu meeting is very significant. Indeed, the Israeli newspaper quoted Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection and in charge of Jerusalem Affairs, Ze’ev Elkin, as saying, “Israel could target the S-300 ground-to-air missile systems delivered in early October to Syria by Moscow, if Syrian forces try to use them to shoot down Israeli aircraft”.