Russia will supply Syria with S-300 anti-aircraft defense systems “soon,” a senior Russian official told the Kommersant newspaper on Monday, warning Israel that it would “suffer catastrophic consequences” if it attacks the system.
According to the report, the system will be supplied to the regime of Bashar Assad for no cost and will likely be brought into the country via transport aircraft or Russian Navy ships to be deployed to cover Damascus and the regime’s airfields.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later tried to walk back the report. Lavrov said on Monday that Russia had not yet decided whether it would deliver advanced S-300 missile systems to Syria, but would not make a secret of the matter if it took such a decision, the TASS news agency reported.
The Kommersant report stated that while Moscow believes that such a move would stabilize the situation in war-torn Syria, “experts believe that the reaction of the Israeli military to such a move will be predictably negative and do not exclude attacks on their locations.”
“If Israel decides to carry out rocket strikes on the deployment locations of the S-300, the consequences will be catastrophic for all sides,” Russian defense officials told the paper.
Lt.-Gen. Aitech Bizhev, the Russian Air Force’s former deputy chief commander for the CIS joint air defense system it would take about three months for the Russians to train Syrian troops to operate the S-300 and would likely see Russian military advisors stationed where the batteries are deployed to coordinate with the Syrians.
Last week, Chief of Main Operational Directorate Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy said that “in the past year and a half Russia has fully restored Syria’s air defense system and continues to further upgrade it.”
Moscow had “refused” to supply the surface-to-air missile system to Syria a few years ago after “taking into account the pressing request of some of our Western partners.”
But following US-led airstrikes on Syrian regime chemical weapons infrastructure, Russia considered the possibility to “return to examination of this issue not only in regard to Syria but to other countries as well,” he stated.
Syrian air defenses are largely Soviet-era systems, with SA-2s, SA-5s, and SA-6s as well as the more sophisticated tactical surface-to-air missiles such as the SA-17s and SA-22 systems. The most up-to-date system that Moscow has supplied to the Syrian regime is the short range Pantsir S-1 which has shot down drones and missiles over Syria.
The advanced S-300 would be a major upgrade to the Syrian air defenses and would pose a threat to Israeli jets on missions as the long-range missile defense system can track objects such as aircraft and ballistic missiles over a range of 300 kilometers.
A full battalion includes six launcher vehicles with each vehicle carrying four missile containers for a total of 24 missiles as well as command-and-control and long-range radar detection vehicles.
The system’s engagement radar, which can guide up to 12 missiles simultaneously, helps guide the missiles towards the target. With two missiles per target each launcher vehicle can engage up to six targets at once.
A Russian diplomat who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Israel has asked Moscow not to supply the Syrian military with the S-300s. An Israeli government spokesman declined comment.
Reuters contributed to this report.