Russia Claimed Syria Shot Down Israeli Missiles. Is Assad Revealing New Capabilities?

In the past, such reports came from Syria and were considered an attempt to minimize humiliation over the strikes. This time, Russia announced it

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Pantsir-S1 Weapon System: A phased-array tracking radar, Two twin-barrel automatic anti-aircraft guns and 12 ready to launch guided surface-to-air missile
Pantsir-S1 Weapon System: A phased-array tracking radar, Two twin-barrel automatic anti-aircraft guns and 12 ready to launch guided surface-to-air missileCredit: Vitaly V. Kuzmin, Wikipedia
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

In an unusual statement Monday morning after the air strike on the T-4 airbase near Homs, Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that Israel had carried out the attack. The statement also said that the strike was carried out by two Israeli fighter jets in Lebanese airspace and that Syrian air defenses intercepted between five and eight missiles.

Israel has not responded officially on the matter, and it is unclear whether the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim that five missiles were intercepted is true, but if the Russian report is correct, and missiles fired at the air base where shot down, some say that this is a situation requiring Israel to conduct itself differently.

Over the years and up to the present, Syria would quickly report that it had been able to shoot down missiles fired at it, whether the strikes were attributed to Israel by the foreign media or whether the United States attacked Syria with Tomahawk missiles. These reports over the years were not considered reliable and were generally seen as an attempt by Syria to minimize its humiliation over its inability to respond to the strikes. The Syrian reports are mainly for domestic consumption in Syria and less for the countries carrying out the strikes, which know full well whether the missiles hit their targets and do not wait for Syria’s confirmation.

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This time the statement came from the Russian Defense Ministry, making it unusual and different from the past. It is unclear from the statement whether the Russian ministry based its report on Syrian information or on information held by the Russians, who usually know what is happening in the region. According to a former senior Israel Air Force officer, it is not difficult to shoot down missiles. Some cruise missiles, including those that according to foreign sources Israel employs, are heavy, relatively slow and can be detected by radar with relative ease.

Russian S-400 missile air defense systems seen in a military parade in Volgograd, Russia February 2, 2018Credit: \ TATYANA MAKEYEVA/ REUTERS

Another former senior air force officer said he doubts that the Syrian army could intercept such a high percentage of missiles — five out of eight — unless it had help from the Russians by means of an advanced missile system like the S400 and other systems.

“I don’t believe the Russians would provide the Syrians with an operative aerial umbrella against missiles,” said Tal Inbar, an international expert on flight, space and missile technology. “I doubt that this information is reliable. If they had been able to shoot down the missiles, they would have shown proof, and we haven’t seen any so far.”

The Syrians have an integrated system of ground-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery called the Pantsir, which according to a former air force officer, can intercept missiles. However, said the officer, the percentage of success reported on Monday by the Russian Defense Ministry seems too high. He expressed doubts about the reports and claimed that if the intercept percentages are true, they represent a failure by those who carried out the air strike.

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