Monday, October 22, 2018

Is this how Israel will deal with Russian S-300 missiles in Syria?

 The website middleeastmonitor ran a brief story at the end of last week that offers an intriguing look at how Israel might be able to destroy sophisticated (S-300) Russian anti-aircraft missiles in Syria--possibly, without harming its existing Russia-Israel relationship (here). 

We don't know if such a report is accurate. We don't know why such a report has surfaced just now. But one thing seems certain: the report has a good 'ring' to it. It might work to Israel's benefit. It might even suggest to Iran that it would be wise to be careful about shipping missiles and missile-equipment through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon: this report, if true, suggests that the new S-300s may not protect either Iran or Syria from Israeli air attack. 

The report comes from a retired US General. He says he bases his declaration (below) on "his knowledge about the Israelis" (whatever that might mean). Specifically, he says that Israel "is to destroy the S-300 defence system offered by Russia to Syria".  

His words contain a somewhat peculiar construction: 'Israel is to destroy', as if it is Israel's destiny to do that. It's a phrase that suggests that this decision has already been made by Israel--with, we might infer, US approval. 

How will Israel destroy those missiles without harming its relationship with Russia? It appears quite simple: the former US General says that Israel will simply declare that the S-300 system in Syria is "owned by Syria" [emphasis mine]. This phrase seems designed to exclude Russia from any responsibility for the missiles--or their destruction. The suggestion is that, if these missiles are owned by Syria, then Syria--not Russia--is fully responsible for anything Israel might do to those missiles. 

The missiles arrived in Syria mid-October (2018). The Syrians are expected to begin training on how to use them "within three months" (ibid).

Could Israel attack these missiles as soon as Russian trainers leave Syria? Israel may not be able to wait that long. It appears that, at almost the same time the Russian S-300 missiles arrived in Syria, Iran stepped up its shipments of components that will turn Hezbollah unguided rockets (in Lebanon) into GPS-equipped precision-guided missiles (here). 

Will Israel sit still while Hezbollah converts unguided rockets to precision-guided missiles? That seems unlikely.

Perhaps it was this Iranian move that prompted the retired US General to send a signal that Israel isn't intimidated by the S-300's. Of course, why a former US General would send such a signal isn't clear. But then, this is the Middle East. There's often more 'smoke' than 'light' here. 

Who knows why people involved in the Middle East say and do what they say and do? Undisclosed motives lurk behind practically everything in this region.

What does all of this mean? Stay tuned. This deadly chess game isn't over.

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