Just as the Putin government promised a few weeks ago, the Defense Ministry has delivered four sophisticated S-300 air defense systems to the Syrian government.
The Associated Press reported:
Russia’s defense minister says the delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Syria has been completed.
Sergei Shoigu said in televised remarks Tuesday that Russia has delivered four S-300 launchers along with radars and support vehicles. He says it will take three months to train Syrian personnel to operate the system.
Russia announced last month that it would provide the S-300s after the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli air strike, a friendly fire incident that stoked regional tensions.
Shoigu says the Russian military has also significantly strengthened its electronic warfare systems in Syria. He says the integration of Russian and Syrian air defense assets will be completed by Oct. 20.
Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and its intervention in the civil war, beginning in 2015, turned the tide in his favor.
Analysis: The U.S. and Israel warned Russia against deploying the systems, but obviously those warnings have been ignored.
The fact that they are there — and that Syria will most definitely deploy them to counter future Israeli strikes against both Syrian and Iranian targets inside Syria — significantly increases the risks for the Israel Defense Forces and even for U.S. air power operating in-theater. The deployment of the S-300s also increases the risk of conflict between regional powers.
The S-300 systems have now become targets for Israeli military planners as well. If Israel is to continue operating in Syria, then those systems present an unacceptable risk to IDF warplanes, meaning they must be destroyed to ensure mission success.
But how will destroying the S-300 batteries impact great power relations — the U.S. and Russia?
Obviously, with the deployment of the S-300s, Moscow is telling the relevant parties it has a vested, long-standing interest in Syria and is willing to escalate the risks of new conflict by handing them over to the Syrian government. The U.S. has interests in the country as well, most notably defeating ISIS and keeping Iran at bay.
And, of course, Israel wants to keep Iran at bay, as demonstrated over the past few years by airstrikes aimed at Iranian weapons depots and transfers of missiles and other sophisticated systems to Hezbollah fighters.
We can’t see Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu suddenly reversing course and deciding that Iran no longer poses a significant threat to his country from inside Syria. So, that means he will continue to defend Israeli interests, which has often meant striking targets inside a sovereign country — that now has substantially better air defenses provided by a major nuclear power that isn’t about to abandon its interests in Syria, either, notably its valuable naval port at Tartus.
Israel, then, has two principle choices. Netanyahu can order the S-300s destroyed before they go operational, which means that Russian personnel will be killed because they are on hand to train the Syrians in the use of those systems, or it can wait until one of its warplanes is successfully targeted by an S-300, then destroy it — which will also mean killing Russian personnel, if they are still helping the Syrians learn the systems.
Neither of those choices is good.
A third option would be to end all strike missions against Iranian targets inside Syria out of concern for the S-300s, which will most likely be positioned to protect Syrian government installations and other interests (which just happen to coincide with Iranian interests). But that really isn’t a viable option, either, given Israel’s determination to defeat the Iranian threat.
Putin has made a calculation here that the S-300s he provided his Syrian benefactors will serve as a deterrent to future Israeli action. He may have, instead, provided the Israelis with their next airstrike package.