Report: Iran Gave Syria Advanced Anti-aircraft Radar

Iran has provided Syria with a sophisticated radar that could complicate an Israeli air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

The radar was delivered to Syria last year in a bid to bolster Damascus' anti-aircraft defenses, the Journal said, quoting American and Israeli sources. Both Iran and Syria denied the report.

The newspaper said that the radar was delivered to Syria in mid-2009, and that the transaction constitutes a violation of an arms embargo imposed on Iran in 2007 by the United Nations Security Council.

"Iran is engaged in developing Syrian intelligence and aerial detection capabilities, and Iranian representatives are present in Syria for that express purpose," the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement to the Journal. "Radar assistance is only one expression of that cooperation."

A spokesperson for the Syrian embassy in Washington assailed the report as a "classic Israeli PR stunt aimed at diverting the world's attention from the atrocities they are committing in Gaza and other occupied territories, and we will not continue wasting our time" on it.

Syria is interested in improving its air defense and early detection capabilities to better contend with the Israel Air Force's qualitative edge, particularly against the backdrop of the raid that destroyed an alleged nuclear facility in northeast Syria in September 2007.

According to international press reports, IAF fighter jets successfully outmaneuvered Syrian anti-aircraft radar. But Syria, in its first response immediately after the facility was bombed, insisted that its radars had spotted the Israeli jets and that it had successfully chased the planes away with fire from its anti-aircraft batteries.

Aside from boosting its ally Syria, Iran also appears to have a direct interest in making the deal: Stationing an Iranian radar system on Syrian soil would improve Tehran's ability to monitor IAF activity.

Should the need arise, the Iranian radar would serve as a de facto forward position that would make an Israeli attack on Iran more difficult.

The Islamic regime in Tehran has been negotiating with Russia for years over the acquisition of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Thus far, however, Russia has refused to actually supply the weapons, though it has issued numerous conflicting statements on the matter.

In recent months, Israeli and western intelligence officials have disseminated numerous reports about Hezbollah's drive to stockpile increasingly precise and longer-range missiles and rockets, with active assistance from Iran and Syria.

Some reports said the Lebanese militia has come into possession of sophisticated M-600 rockets and Scud-D missiles, while others said that Hezbollah is operating a base on Syrian soil.

The report that Hezbollah had acquired Scud-Ds was initially greeted with bewilderment, since the range of these missiles, 500 kilometers, far exceeds the distance between Lebanon and Israel. But it could be that the Shi'ite group wishes to have the option of targeting Eilat, a city currently viewed by Israelis as a safe haven, in the event of renewed hostilities.