Israeli missiles evade Russian air defense system in Syria
Yesterday (Wednesday, December 7, 2016) at 03:00 explosions shattered the night sky over Damascus, a fire that erupted at the military airport of Al Mezzeh, west of the Syrian capital continued to burn. By noon, the Syrian regime released a statement blaming the attack on Israel. As usual, no comment came from Jerusalem, but the Syrian statement added another bit of information. They claimed that surface-to-surface missiles were used in the attack, and identified they were launched from a location west of Tel Avital (Tal Abu Nada) in the Golan Heights, about 56 km from the target. If the Syrian claim is correct, this incident is the first time that Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) has used precision guided surface-launched missiles, a new type of weapon procured this year.This should also give pause to the Iranians who are buying the same defense system as that used by the Russians in Syria. While these are shorter range missiles, I suspect that longer-range missiles in the Israeli arsenal have similar capabilities.
The type of weapon and the range to the target does not leave much for guessing. Examining Israel’s rocket arsenal, only one precision strike rocket could reach this range – the 306mm EXTRA. But, in fact, 50 km is less than a third of its maximum range – the EXTRA can strike with the same precision, at targets 150km away. It’s larger sibling – the Predator Hawk, can reach targets at 250 km with warhead twice as heavy as the EXTRA.
Although the weapon was developed more than a decade ago, EXTRA is relatively new in Israel’s arsenal. The IDF artillery corps fielded these weapons earlier in 2016. The IDF was not the first customer for this weapon. The designer and manufacturer IMI have sold these missiles to several countries in the past. In June 2016 Israel press reports mentioned the sale of Precision Guided 306mm EXTRA Rocket to the IDF.
Some analysts assessed the Israeli choice of weapon to reluctance to engage with the Russian Air Defense systems currently deployed in Syria. The Russian contingent along the Mediterranean coast (in Latakia and Tartus) currently comprises a unit of S-400 air defense missiles and the Kirov class battlecruiser (Pyotr Velikiy) that carries air defense systems similar to the S-300. However, these assets are operational in Syria for months and have not prevented alleged Israeli attacks in the past.
If these new and precise weapons were used in the recent attack, the official Syrian announcement was, in fact, a conduit for Jerusalem to send its message to the region – Beware!