Within two weeks, Russia will arm Syria with S-300 air defense systems and start jamming navigation in the E. Mediterranean – two of the three measures announced by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Monday, Sept. 24 “in response to Israel’s role in downing the Russian IL-20” on Sept. 17.
Syria’s air defense electronic capacities will be boosted to level that of Russian forces in the country. But the most significant measure announced by Shoigu was: “Russia will jam satellite navigation, on-board radars and communication systems of combat aircraft, which attack targets in the Syrian territory, in the regions over the waters of the Mediterranean Sea bordering with Syria.”
The Russian minister stressed that if these measures “fail to cool hotheads, [He was obviously referring to Israel.], we will have to respond in line with the current situation.”
The crucial measure he announced is not the arming of Syria for the first time with S-300 systems – which Moscow withheld in the past at Israel’s request – but the jamming of navigation. DEBKAfile’s military experts point out that this the first time a major world power has declared electronic war against any country. After rejecting Israel’s version of the Ilyushin crash with 15 Russian servicemen aboard as untruthful, Moscow has thrown down the electronic gauntlet before the IDF and pitched the dispute onto a much higher elevation. This challenge confronts Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot with three tough options:
- They could have sought a way out of this high-stakes showdown with Moscow up until Monday. But now, it is too late. Shoigu slammed the door shut on a quiet exit. However, Israel is even more unable to give up on its air offensive against Iranian and its proxies’ presence in Syria, despite the escalated risk of a clash with the Russians, because it would constitute a humiliating comedown against Iran and Hizballah. However, in future, the IDF may be more cautious and select its targets with greater circumspection.
- They could meet Moscow’s challenge for an electronic duel. In previous encounters, Israel came of best. In 1982, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a Russian air defense network installed by Russia in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley; and more recently, in 2007, Israeli planes, before destroying the Iranian-North Korean plutonium reactor in Deir Ez-Zour, activated its “Suter” system to “blind” the Syrian/Russian radar protecting the site.
Russian electronic warfare specialists have since sought answers for Israel’s jamming measures, but have found it difficult to catch up with is constant advances. However, this time may be different. DEBKAfile reports that the latest Russian challenge may stretch Israel’s Air Force and Navies beyond their capacity. While successful in coping with electronic antagonists over small targets in the past, they now see the Russian Defense Minister painting a large arena of many hundreds of kilometers covering Syria and the eastern Mediterranean for the new challenge. Israel lacks operational experience on this scale of electronic warfare.
- The IDF is much less worried about the impending delivery of S-300 missiles systems to Bashar Assad’s army. For years, the IAF has been practicing combat against these batteries. But for taking on massive Russian jamming across the eastern Mediterranean, Israel may have to turn to the United States for assistance. This request may be raised when Netanyahu meets President Donald Trump on Wednesday Sept. 26, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
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