RUSSIA AND ISRAEL TEST ADVANCED WEAPONS TECHNOLOGY IN SYRIA

Why Hasn’t Syria Used the S-300?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 21, 2019— Russian and Syrian media emphasized that Syrian air defense “repelled” the attack by Israel on Sunday.

Should Israel Cooperate with Russia?: Robert G. Rabil, Algemeiner, Dec. 30, 2018 — Since the 1990s, Israel and Russia have enjoyed an increasingly warm relationship.

We Need to Talk About Iran and Russia in this Israeli Election: Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, Ynet, Jan. 2, 2019 — It is a truism in politics that elections are about the future, and not just about the past.

Russia-Ukraine Tensions are Profoundly Dangerous. The West Must Intervene: Aurel Braun, Globe and Mail, Nov. 26, 2018— Sunday’s (Nov. 25) brazen Russian attack on three Ukrainian naval vessels, the capture of two dozen Ukrainian sailors and the wounding of several, is the first direct military incident between Moscow and Kiev forces.

On Topic Links

So in Israel’s Election, Who Are the Russians For?: Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 9, 2019

Syria Faces Brittle Future, Dominated by Russia and Iran: Vivian Yee, New York Times, Dec. 26, 2018

Antisemitic Attacks are a Rare Occurrence in Russia, Study Reports: JTA, Oct. 31, 2018

Pessimism Sweeps Russia: Vladislav Inozemtsev, Moscow Times, Jan. 15, 2019

 

WHY HASN’T SYRIA USED THE S-300?

Seth J. Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 21, 2019

Russian and Syrian media emphasized that Syrian air defense “repelled” the attack by Israel on Sunday. According to a spokesman for Russia’s national defense management center, the Syrians used the Pantsir and Buk air defense systems. Israel struck at a Pantsir defense system in retaliation on Monday. But why wasn’t the S-300, which Russia supplied to Syria in September, used by Damascus?

The continuing quiet among the S-300 gunners is a perplexing mystery that underpins the shadowy and deadly conflict unfolding in Syria’s skies. In late September, Russia announced it would give the Syrian regime the S-300 system in the wake of Syrian air defenses mistakenly shooting down a Russian Il-20. The Syrians had used an S-200 to hit the Russian plane, mistaking it for an Israeli warplane during an Israeli raid in Latakia. New electronic warfare systems were also sent to Syria, including systems designed to control a “near zone” 50 km. from the system and a far zone “200 km.” away that would guard against Israeli attacks, according to a report at Janes.

Since the deployment of the S-300, there was a hiatus in attacks between October and late December. However, Syrian air defense was on alert, saying that its radars were jammed on November 30. This has led to speculation that Syrian air defense was tested several times between October and December.

An air strike on December 25 and then on January 12 were reported by Syrian media. Syria says it was able to shoot down Israeli missiles on January 12. Yet the three batteries of S-300s have apparently remained dormant. Part of the story with the S-300 can be realized from Russian media reports, which have emphasized that the system was not used or have pointed to other, older systems being used. Is this because the Syrians are not trained on the system? All three battalions of S-300 PMU-2 systems were active by early November, Syrian media indicated. “Russian technical specialists completed the reconfiguration of the system to replace the Russian codes and letter frequencies to the letter codes and radars of Syrian ones,” a report noted.

OBSERVERS OF Syria note that the issue is not that the S-300 is ineffective. One expert who tweets under the name Tom Cat (@TomTheBasedCat) notes “the priority [of Syrian air defense] is to intercept the majority of the projectiles to minimize risk to civilians in the surrounding suburbs.” In this analysis, Syria’s goal isn’t to use air defense to strike at Israeli jets. However, in the past Syrian air defense projectiles have strayed toward Israel. In March 2017 an S-200 reportedly was fired and intercepted over the Jordan valley by an Arrow missile. An F-16 returning from an air strike was pursued by an S-200 missile in February and crashed in northern Israel. A Syrian missile heading for Israel was targeted by Israeli air defense on December 26.

With the S-300 now in Syria, the question is why it hasn’t been used. Tom Cat argues that “the S-300 is for Theater Defense against air-breathing targets like ballistic missiles and enemy planes, not for Point Defense like tonight [January 11] and the previous times.” In this analysis Syrian air defense doesn’t use the S-300 because it’s not the right system to stop the kind of threat involved. “The game will change when the S-300 is moved southwards because then they can actually track and target the jets,” the expert tweeted on January 13.

Others have speculated that the S-300 operators are not fully trained and that they will be ready by February of this year. This joins accusations online that the S-300 has not been effective or that it hasn’t been used because of fears that if it doesn’t work as planned then it will be an embarrassment for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally which has staked some of its pride on providing the system to help deter air strikes. Another important aspect of the S-300 discussion is the public relations value of having the system work and also deterring air strikes.

AFTER THE December air strike, there was an apparent hiatus in such strikes. But then Israel took credit for the January 12 and January 20-21 air strikes. Former IDF chief of staff Gadi EIsenkot even said in an interview that “thousands of targets” had been hit and “in 2018 alone, the air force dropped a staggering 2,000 bombs” on Syria, according to The New York Times. This appears to raise serious concerns about Syrian air defense and its inability to deter the strikes, interdict them or use its more sophisticated new technology.

Syrian state media repeats claims again and again that it has intercepted Israel’s missiles. Russian media plays this up as well, with TASS claiming on January 20 that seven Israeli guided aircraft missiles were intercepted. The point here is to show that the Buk and Pantsir systems are doing their job, and the Pantsir S-1 is providing the point air defense it was designed for.

Nevertheless, the question mark about the S-300 remains. When it was deployed it was portrayed as a game changer. But Reuters had reported in 2015 and again in October 2018 that Israel had trained against the S-300 system in Greece.

Regional countries are watching, as well as world powers, because the Syrian conflict is not just a conflict but a test of two different defense and combat systems, one in Israel that is linked to Israel’s advanced technology and defense industry and the West, and one supplied by Russia. Echoes of the Cold War – when Western-supplied technology rolled into battle with Israeli forces against the Syrian army in 1967, 1973 and 1982 – overshadow what comes next.

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SHOULD ISRAEL COOPERATE WITH RUSSIA?

Robert G. Rabil

Algemeiner, Dec. 30, 2018

Since the 1990s, Israel and Russia have enjoyed an increasingly warm relationship. Russian President Vladimir Putin is reputed to have said, “There is a little piece of Russia in Israel.” However, Moscow’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war and the crushing of ISIS in Syria and Iraq have changed the dynamics of the Israel-Russia relationship.

Israel is concerned about Iran’s deepening strategic military presence in Syria, which involves the building of military bases and the provisioning of Hezbollah with precision missiles. Over the past two years, and especially since the defeat of ISIS, Israel has led a systematic air campaign against Iranian assets in Syria that Russia, despite its control of Syrian airspace, has done little to stop.

Yet as Jerusalem began to align its military strategy in Syria with that of the US, Moscow apparently signaled its discontent. In February 2018, an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace. As expected, Israel retaliated by downing the drone and carrying out air strikes across Syria and against the Iranian drone’s point of origin. For the first time since 1982, an Israeli jet was then shot down by Syrian missiles. Analysts have questioned whether Syria could have anticipated and fired at the Israeli jets had it not been for Russian planning.

Nevertheless, Israel and Russia continued their coordination, concluding an agreement in late July 2018 according to which the Syrian armed forces redeployed on the Golan Heights. Despite reservations, Jerusalem accepted a Russian pledge to keep Iran and Hezbollah 80 km from Israel’s Golan Heights. However, this agreement did not stop Israel from striking Iranian and Syrian assets deemed threatening to its security. On September 17, Israel carried out air strikes against Iranian-Syrian positions near Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Latakia. Syrian regime forces fired back; in the process, they accidentally downed a Russian surveillance plane, killing all 15 Russian service members on board.

While President Putin blamed “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” the Russian Defense Ministry accused Israel of hiding its F-16s behind the Russian plane, thus making it a target for Syria’s anti-aircraft missiles. Moscow responded by delivering S-300 missiles to Syria. No doubt, this episode underscored Russian fears about an American-Israeli plan to undercut its presence in Syria, not least since the number of US special forces in Syria at the time was gradually increasing and Washington’s military bases in northeastern Syria appeared to be transforming into permanent bases not too far from Latakia, the seat of Russian power.

Since Russia would not give up on its investment in the Assad regime — and Iran — Washington’s strategy of ensuring the departure of Iranian forces from Syria entailed the risk of a costly confrontation. Paradoxically, in a surprising shift of policy, President Donald Trump has ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, bringing an end to the military campaign against ISIS and removing any barrier to Tehran’s military presence in Syria. This has put the onus on Israel to check Iranian power in Syria. The Netanyahu government has been steadfast in trying to prevent Tehran from entrenching itself in Syria, and has made Israel-Russia coordination in the country strategically crucial to avoiding escalation.

At this critical juncture, Jerusalem has an opportunity to prevent a regional conflagration. Russia needs Iran and Hezbollah to secure and stabilize Syria. Serious challenges lie ahead, including defeating the thousands of Salafi jihadists in Idlib. But Moscow does not want either Iran or Hezbollah to have undue influence over Syrian politics. Simply put, Syria is a Russian protectorate. This has been transmitted to Tehran, including demands to restrict its military actions from Damascus all the way south to the Golan Heights. Reportedly, Hezbollah’s strategic goal of extending its presence to the Golan has been nixed by Russia.

This divergence in strategy has created tension between the allies. This is evident in Lebanon, where former allies Hezbollah and the Syrian regime have become rivals. Hezbollah has marshaled its political forces to deny the Syrian regime reentry into Lebanese politics. Lebanon, as former Lebanese parliamentarian Basem Shabb perceptively observed, “is the only country in the region where Iran has dominated the political scene with no credible opposition, until now.” The return of Syrian influence to Lebanon could pose the only potential threat to Hezbollah’s hegemony over the country, especially now that US sanctions against both Iran and Hezbollah have begun to bite.

Breaking with past policy, Hezbollah has dismissed any cooperation with pro-Syrian candidates in the ongoing formation of the new government. As Shabb pointed out, “No effort was made to include Syria’s Lebanese allies, namely the SSNP or Baath Party, in the cabinet for the first time in 30 years.”

Taken together, these developments have ushered in a new dynamic in Syria. In these circumstances, Jerusalem could build on its recent agreement with Moscow in regard to southern Syria and institutionalize a protocol with Syria, the US, and Jordan whereby Russia would be the formal mediator and guarantor of security in that area. This model, though not ideal, could prevent a drift into open confrontation. A similar pact, the April 1996 agreement between Hezbollah and Israel, established ground rules in southern Lebanon that prevented open confrontation. Jerusalem can maintain its strategic cooperation with Moscow and prevent escalation on its border from devolving into regional war.

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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IRAN AND RUSSIA IN THIS ISRAELI ELECTION

Dennis Ross and David Makovsky

Ynet, Jan. 2, 2019

It is a truism in politics that elections are about the future, and not just about the past. In Israel’s upcoming election, given the potential of looming indictments, many in Israel will want to consider whether a sitting prime minister can fulfill the responsibilities of the office while also devoting major time and attention to his legal difficulties. Regardless of how that question is answered, there will be other fundamental questions about national security challenges that must be addressed. And, those questions, which have understandably gone to the heart of the Israeli public’s concerns historically, should be asked of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his challengers Avi Gabbay, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, and others on the center-left.

To begin with, while the Trump’s administration support for Israel has been important diplomatically and symbolically, it has largely left Israel on its own when it comes to dealing with the challenges of Iran in Syria and Lebanon and managing the Russians. But with the Russians now adopting a tougher policy toward Israel’s freedom of action in Syria and Lebanon, how do Netanyahu and other candidates propose to deal with them?

The challenge is especially acute because the Trump administration with its withdrawal from Syria is signaling to everyone, including the Russians, that it sees no interests in Syria regardless of whether Israel and Jordan are likely to face Iranian-backed threats from there. Historically, there was an understanding between the United States and Israel: Israel handles the threats it faces in the region, the U.S. deals with threats from external powers. That apparently no longer applies with the Trump administration, so Israel’s leaders have to contend with a new reality in the region in which the U.S. intends to play a diminished role even as Russia becomes more assertive in filling the vacuum.

True, neither the prime minister nor his challengers are likely to want to acknowledge publicly the reality of a diminished U.S. role, and its implications for Israel. But they can address what Israel may need to be doing on its own, given Russia’s increased prominence in the region and its new criticism of Israeli actions in Syria and Lebanon.

The prime minister may have been the honored guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin last May in Moscow celebrating the victory over the Nazis, but now the Russians are calling the most recent Israeli strike in Syria a provocation and Israeli overflights in Lebanon a violation of UNSC Resolution 1701—this even as Israel uncovers the fifth Hezbollah tunnel dug into its territory. So the relationship with Putin looks more problematic and the Russian impulse to exert its leverage is now greater, particularly with it not having to worry about the United States.

To be sure, Syria is not the only Iran-related challenge near Israel’s borders. Amid understandable concerns about Hezbollah’s 130,000 rockets, Israel has refrained from attacking its precision-guided facilities in Lebanon that could convert these rockets into missiles with sharp accuracy. And, yet, Israel truly cannot live with Hezbollah having rockets with high accuracy and capable of launching saturation attacks on Israel’s high-value strategic economic and military targets. So what should Israel do?

Of course, the main Iran-related issue is the question of whether Tehran will renew its nuclear program. The Trump administration has withdrawn from the nuclear deal of 2015 and its approach of re-imposing sanctions is creating real economic pressures on Iran. But it has not altered any Iranian behaviors as they remain aggressive in the region—so Israel must focus on countering that where it can. But what happens if the Iranians withdraw from the nuclear deal and resume their uranium enrichment, reducing their break-out time to weeks? The Trump approach seems built essentially on sanctions and economic pressure but little more. How will each candidate approach an Iranian withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the possibility that the Trump administration will maintain its current approach?

What about Gaza? Does either the prime minister or his challengers have an alternative to the current approach? No one wants to go back into Gaza, but is the reality of periodic flare-ups over the last decade, often driving a million Israelis in the south into shelters, the new normal? Can there be a more durable ceasefire with Hamas without reconstruction of infrastructure in Gaza? It is clear that the Israeli security establishment is looking for stabilizing components like infrastructure that could avert future deterioration. What is the alternative to this approach? If there is not one, why hasn’t it gone forward?…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

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RUSSIA-UKRAINE TENSIONS ARE PROFOUNDLY DANGEROUS. THE WEST MUST INTERVENE

Aurel Braun

Globe and Mail, Nov. 26, 2018

Sunday’s (Nov. 25) brazen Russian attack on three Ukrainian naval vessels, the capture of two dozen Ukrainian sailors and the wounding of several, is the first direct military incident between Moscow and Kiev forces. It represents a profoundly dangerous escalation and a stark challenge to U.S. President Donald Trump as he prepares to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit at the end of this month.

That the Russian attack in and around the Kerch Strait was swiftly condemned by both NATO and the European Union underlines the utter gravity of the situation. The West needs to move quickly along two lines – de-escalation and deterrence – while making these two seemingly contradictory goals compatible, if long term peace is to succeed.

How much is at stake cannot be overstated. First, if Russia is able to deny Ukraine the right to navigate through the Kerch Strait, then it will be able to block Ukraine’s ability to export iron and steel from the ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, which represent 25 per cent of the country’s total export revenue. With an unchallenged violation of the 2003 Russia-Ukraine treaty, which was meant to give Kiev unimpeded access to the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov, Moscow could begin to strangle the Ukrainian economy. Second, by blocking unimpeded navigation to Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov, Russia can also undermine the military position of Ukraine in the city of Mariupol which is quite close to the line held by Moscow-controlled rebels in eastern Ukraine. The fall of Mariupol to Moscow’s proxies would be a devastating blow to Ukraine.

Third, if Moscow is able to conduct such a direct attack on Ukraine with impunity, this may also send a signal to NATO that its periphery is increasingly at risk and that the Baltics, perhaps even Poland which borders on the vulnerable Suwalki Gap, could be at risk in the future. Any attempt to deal with the crisis at the UN Security Council, given Moscow’s veto, is likely to be fruitless as shown in the failed emergency session on Monday. In fact, Russia, reaching into the old Soviet lexicon, claimed that it was responding to a Ukrainian “provocation” – code in Soviet times for justifying aggression.

Ukraine’s move to introduce Martial law is not likely to deter Russia and may even have a deleterious domestic impact. Martial law may not appreciably increase Ukraine’s military readiness, (which after several years of supposed improvement is still relatively ineffective), but is already raising concerns about possible political manipulation by the Poroshenko government as it is preparing for elections in March, 2019.

It is therefore largely up to the West to find the right kind of balance between de-escalation and deterrence as it tries to reassure Ukraine. For a start the Ukrainian sailors have to be freed and Kiev’s right of peaceful passage through the Kerch Strait must be restored. Perhaps the latter could be done through an international monitoring regime that would ensure that Ukrainian and Russian vessels do not violate territorial waters as they navigate in the region and Moscow could claim that now its concerns about possible attacks on its bridge-link via Kerch to Crimea would be safeguarded. At the same time, the West must move quickly to boost regional deterrence against Russia and make clear the unacceptable cost of future aggression. This includes several steps that NATO and particularly the United States should take expeditiously, especially now that Mr. Trump will be meeting with Mr. Putin…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

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On Topic Links

So in Israel’s Election, Who Are the Russians For?: Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 9, 2019—On Monday, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director Nadav Argaman made front-page headlines at a Tel Aviv University press conference by saying that a foreign country is trying to influence Israel’s upcoming elections through its cyber capabilities.

Syria Faces Brittle Future, Dominated by Russia and Iran: Vivian Yee, New York Times, Dec. 26, 2018—Turkey is threatening to invade Syria to eradicate Kurdish fighters.

Antisemitic Attacks are a Rare Occurrence in Russia, Study Reports: JTA, Oct. 31, 2018—Russia saw fewer than 10 suspected hate crimes against Jews in the first half of 2018, a human rights watchdog critical of the government said in a report.

Pessimism Sweeps Russia: Vladislav Inozemtsev, Moscow Times, Jan. 15, 2019—In recent months, few topics have got as much attention from Russia analysts as popular disenchantment with the ruling elite. As many experts claim today, Russian society is beginning to show signs of discontent that the authorities should not ignore.