Earlier this month, the S-300 air defense system attacked Israeli jets in northwestern Syria, marking the first instance of Russian-made S-300 missiles attacking Israeli warplanes.
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Reports said at least one surface-to-air missile was launched at F-16 fighters as they departed after hitting Iranian targets near the town of Masyaf in northwestern Syria.
It is unclear who exactly operates the S-300 systems in Syria. However, reports suggest that Russian military personnel are overseeing the operations of Syrian S-300s, and Damascus needs permission from Moscow before it can fire them.
The incident marks a significant shift in policy from Moscow, which had given tacit approval to IAF operations in Syrian airspace.
Rising tensions between Moscow and Tel Aviv
Tensions have escalated between Tel Aviv and Moscow over differences over the war in Ukraine, particularly after reports surfaced that Israel was considering sending military aid to kyiv.
Israeli officials reportedly attended the US-hosted summit on military aid to Ukraine at Ramstein Air Base in Germany last month.
The incident may also indicate that Russia may be making it difficult for Israeli fighter jets to operate in Syria, jeopardizing its operations targeting Iranian arms transfers to militants in Syria and Lebanon.
According to the Channel 12 News report in Israel, the system’s radar did not lock onto any of the Israeli aircraft and therefore posed no danger to them.
While Israeli planes escaped this time, they have suffered losses in the past in several attacks inside Syria. An F-16I Sufa fighter was shot down by a Syrian S-200 in early 2018, and other aircraft were reportedly damaged.
The addition of the S-300 complicates Israel’s threat environment as it can cover large parts of Syrian airspace and target Israeli jets operating over Lebanon and even in Syrian airspace. northern Israel.
While Israel can take on Syria’s S-300s, the system could pose a formidable challenge, experts say. Israel has also acquired a fleet of fifth-generation stealth F-35 Lightning IIs, increasing the chances that it could succeed in destroying Syrian systems if it wanted to.
An Israeli F-35 would have been shot down by a missile of Russian origin?
Interestingly, it was reported in late 2017 that one of the IAF’s F-35 fighter jets had been damaged by a Syrian S-200 missile.
In a series of statements that began on October 16, 2017, Israel announced that its plane struck a Syrian SAM battery near Damascus that had fired two hours earlier at an unspecified Israeli plane flying over Lebanon.
However, later in the day Israeli media reported that one of the IAF’s F-35I jets had been damaged in a bird strike nearly two weeks earlier. While the plane landed safely, the IAF was unsure whether it will remain operational.
Based on this, several media published reports that one of the IAF F-35s was hit by the Soviet-made S-200 missile in Syria.
The Syrian army statement also says that Israeli warplanes violated Syria’s airspace on the border with Lebanon in the Baalbek area, to which their “air defenses responded and directly hit the Syrian army.” ‘one of the jet planes, forcing [the enemy] retreat”, contradicting the Israeli claim that no warplanes were hit.
While the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that an anti-aircraft missile had indeed been launched from Syria towards his plane, it was not a successful hit. Moreover, the IDF did not specify which plane was used for the “routine flight” in Lebanon.
Moreover, it was not until 2018 that the Israeli F-35I became combat operational and so it would have been extremely unusual for the IAF to send its new fleet of F-35Is to fly along the Syrian border. without reaching initial operating capability (IOC).
The F-35I was a sensitive procurement topic for the Israeli government, as Israeli lawmakers at the time publicly noted the high cost associated with the platform and said they would “carefully assess” the need for it. purchase more F-35s beyond the first 50 ordered.
Therefore, risking the new jets before they were operational for a seemingly standard mission would not have made sense.
However, given that Israel has a history of fielding fighters for unique operational needs, the possibility that an F-35I was operating over foreign territory also cannot be ruled out.
The Israeli F-35 can be used to destroy the S-300
That said, the American-made stealth fighter is arguably the most advanced fighter today and the Israeli version – the F-35I Adir, in particular, is unique and specialized for its needs.
The IAF can modify the F-35I from the outside and has full access to the fighter’s sophisticated digital architecture, including its electronic warfare and surveillance suite, communications systems and mission control hardware.
The IAF can also install “plug-and-play” defensive countermeasures, including jamming modules in the fighter that can prevent the S-300 or other Russian-made air defense systems in Syria from becoming lock.
In addition to this, the F-35I offers domestically-made weapon options, including the Rafael Spice EO/GPS guided bomb and an Israeli-designed cruise missile.
Therefore, according to Israeli claims, it seems that the F-35s could eventually overcome the challenge of the S-300s. It should be recalled that after a Syrian S-200 shot down an Israeli F-16 in 2018, Israel launched a series of retaliatory strikes between 2018 and 2020 that destroyed at least a third of Syrian air defenses.