Dubai: This week, when Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced measures in response to the downing of the Russian Il-20 aircraft with 15 people aboard on September 17, two actions stood out.
They were providing Syria with an S-300 air defence system and jamming satellite navigation, on-board radars and communication systems of combat aircraft that attack targets in Syria and in the regions over the waters of the Mediterranean Sea bordering with Syria.
“The Syrian Armed Forces will be supplied with the advanced S-300 air defence missile system within two weeks. It is capable of intercepting air threats at a range of more than 250 kilometres and simultaneously hitting several aerial targets,” Shoigu said on September 24.
For years, Syria and Iran have been trying to acquire the Russian long-range surface-to-air missile system that had gradually turned into a major strategic asset to alter Israel’s dominance in the air.
The S-300 system is an efficient and advanced anti-aircraft system that can intercept aircraft and ballistic missiles and possibly even cruise missiles at ranges higher than 150km and at a high altitude.
Despite the magnitude of the system, for the Israelis, the more critical measure taken by Russia is the jamming of navigation.
Israeli military experts believe that for them, the S-300 defence system is not a threat that cannot be overcome. They say that the United States and Israel had an “intimate knowledge of the system’s features” and this made it possible for them to “develop ways of disrupting and neutralising the system’s abilities.”
A source close to Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement to Reuters five years ago that the Israelis “likely have a million ways to combat the S-300 electronically”.
On the other hand, the jamming navigation in areas situated along or near Syria’s Mediterranean coastline is seen by the Israelis as an ominous wide-ranging electronic war carried out by a world power with more advanced capabilities than it has ever had.
Israel has conducted hundreds of air and missile strikes in Syria since 2011, when the civil war began.
The Israelis also boast of past successes in electronic warfare. In 1982, they “blinded Soviet-supplied Syrian anti-aircraft units in Lebanon, and then destroyed 19 of them without Israeli losses.”
Similar technologies helped Israeli jets destroy a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 and to hit Syrian targets on several occasions.
According to reports, Israel in 2015 quietly tested ways of defeating an advanced air-defence system that Russia had deployed in the Middle East.
A Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system, sold to Cyprus 18 years earlier but now located on the Greek island of Crete, was activated during joint drills between the Greek and Israeli air forces in April-May.
“The activation allowed Israel’s warplanes to test how the S-300’s lock-on system works, gathering data on its powerful tracking radar and how it might be blinded or bluffed.”
While the Israelis in previous encounters could meet Russian challenges in electronic duels, the situation this time has changed and they are concerned it would be to their detriment.
Just like Shoigu reminded in his statement, that Moscow had halted the delivery of S-300s to Damascus in 2013 at Israel’s request, but the situation around the delivery has changed “through no fault of Russia.”
The area defined by the Russian foreign minister — Syrian territory and the regions over the waters of the Mediterranean Sea bordering with Syria — covers a very vast expanse and Israel, accustomed to much smaller targets, is most likely to find it daunting to take on the massive Russian jamming across the eastern Mediterranean.
Israeli analysts believe that Israel cannot do it alone and will seek assistance from the United States. Such a move would be another game changer in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
In the meantime, Israel is clearly bent on continuing to target Iran’s military build-up in Syria. On September 25, Israel’s Security Cabinet gave instructions to the Israel Defence Forces to keep up its action.