Russia will soon supply the Syrian government with an upgraded air defense system, the S-300. The two-week transfer timeline for the S-300 to Syria is making many nervous, as it would significantly degrade Israel’s ability to conduct airstrikes in the same way it has for years. This could lead to drastic changes in the way Israel, along with other countries, conduct airstrikes. The United States, for example, would have to take the upgraded system into account when conducting retaliatory strikes against chemical weapons.
Israel has conducted over 200 airstrikes since the beginning of the year on targets in Syria, most of which it claims are Iranian targets within Syria. The incident on September 17, 2018, in which a Russian aircraft was shot down was the night that Israeli F-16 jets struck targets which Israel asserts was an Iranian weapons manufacturing facilities producing weapons destined for Lebanon.
Following the downing of the Russian IL-20 intelligence plane off the coast of Syria, and after harsh criticism from Moscow over Israel’s alleged part in the incident, the Russians have agreed to supply Syria with the more advanced air defense system. Syria currently has the S-200 system, developed in the 1960s by the Soviets. The S-300 was developed at the end of the 1970s and is more advanced and has better tracking and range abilities. Overall, the newer system has a longer range, is harder to thwart, and is more lethal than the S-200.
This can be highly problematic for Israel. Russia has also transferred the S-300 to Iran, which became operational this year and has given Iran more defense against possible attacks from a wider area, and the more advanced tracking poses a bigger threat to the F-16s which Israel uses. With the new upgraded system it would greatly add to the danger of attacking Iran.
Russia has sold an even more advanced system to India recently, and this has caused some tension between the United States and India. President Trump may grant a waiver to India for its purchase of such an advanced system from Russia, however, it is also possible that it may not be granted. Saudi Arabia is interested in acquiring the system, as its neighbor, Qatar, is in talks to buy the system. Turkey has expressed interest. Although there are sanctions on countries doing business with Russia’s defense industry, that does not seemed to have stopped its biggest defense company, Alaz-Antey Corporation, from selling to both sides of a highly tense Middle East.
This transfer of technology and capability by Russia is something to watch, as the Russian company that makes the equipment is already among the top ten defense companies in the world. The billions of dollars worth of equipment means good business for Alaz-Antey, which is prospering despite sanctions against Russian arms and arms-related transfers to the many countries that want upgraded air defense systems. There are already sanctions in place for the annexation of Crimea, however, and judging by the spread of Russian air defense systems it seems as though it is not making much difference to Alaz-Antey, who seem willing to sell and transfer its products to the any buyers.