Damascus Close to Multi-million Dollar Deal to Buy Modern Anti-tank Missiles From Russia

Damascus is close to concluding a large deal with Russia to procure thousands of advanced anti-tank missiles for the Syrian army, according to information received in Israel recently. Such a development suggests that Israel's diplomatic efforts to block the sale have failed.

According to various estimates the deal is worth several hundred million dollars and involves several thousand advanced anti-tank missiles.

For years Syria secured anti-tank missiles from the Soviet Union and later from Russia. During the war in Lebanon last summer Israel found proof that Syria had transferred to Hezbollah advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles from its arsenal.

Evidence of the existence of these advanced missiles, the Kornet AT-14 and Metis AT-13, came in the form of crates discovered in the villages of Ghandurya and Farun, close to the Saluki River. The shipment documents showed that they had been procured by the Syrian army and transferred to Hezbollah.

Until Israel was able to produce such evidence the authorities in Moscow refused to acknowledge that advanced Russian-made weapons were being transferred to Hezbollah.

But after the war, an Israeli delegation that included members of the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry presented the evidence to senior Russian officials.

The Russians promised to reevaluate some of the planned arms deals with Syria to ensure that advanced weaponry would not make its way to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.

However, there are now concerns in Israel that Russia will not keep its promise and that the deal with Damascus for the anti-tank missiles is near being finalized.

Syria stepped up its efforts to convince Russia to make the sale following the lessons it reached from the war in Lebanon. The fact that Hezbollah succeeded in delaying an Israeli armored column at the battle near the Saluki River with accurate fire from anti-tank missiles was noted favorably in Arab armies.

In retrospect, and following an IDF study, the number of tanks that were actually damaged during fighting in the war did not exceed several dozen, and in some of them the damage suffered was very minimal. But missile types like the Kornet and the Metis proved their destructive abilities and in some cases even penetrated the armor of the Merkava Mark IV, which is considered to be the best protected tank in the world.

The IDF found it difficult to counter this threat, particularly since the weapons could be fired accurately from distances of five kilometers.

One of the lessons of the war for Syria was that it needed to improve areas in which it had a relative advantage against the IDF, like the anti-tank missile, and surface-to-surface missiles that can threaten Israel's home front.

In addition, Palestinian militant groups have intensified their efforts to smuggle anti-tank missiles from Sinai to the Gaza Strip.

Armor and infantry units in the IDF are now undergoing training in tactical maneuvers that will enable them to counter anti-tank missiles. In addition, there are efforts to upgrade the anti-tank missiles in Israel's arsenal.