Since the Russian IL-20 air crash off Latakia on Sept. 17, Moscow has quietly assembled layer upon layer a missile configuration designed to ambush sophisticated US F-22 and Israeli F-35 (Adir) stealth planes taking to the sky over Syria.
DEBKA Weekly has tracked this process and breaks it down into three interlocking steps:
- Allaying Trump administration concerns about an impending military clash with Russia came first. Moscow signaled James Jeffrey, the new US presidential adviser for Syria through back channels that a new Syria deal with Washington was available and awaited his early visit to the Russian capital.
- Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was also persuaded not to be alarmed by President Vladimir Putin in person.
- The Kremlin’s conciliatory diplomacy was a hoax designed to distract attention from the Russian defense ministry’s painstaking assembly of a broadly-based air defense missile shield in Syria, made up of five parts:
- A number of ageing S-300 batteries were shipped to Syria to lull American and Israeli air force commands into trusting that overcoming them would be child’s play for their fifth- generation stealth aircraft.
- In the three weeks after the IL-20 incident, Russia’s munitions industry upgraded those S-300. When they reached Syria they were in tip-top condition and ready to serve Russia’s schemes for ambushing American and Israeli warplanes.
- Whereas Russian officials spoke initially of four to eight S-300 batteries being consigned to Syria, that too was bogus. It was only on Monday, Oct. 8, that the vast scale of the clandestine deliveries came to light: Three full battalion sets of S-300PM systems of eight launchers each, every set armed with 100 missiles – hence a total of 300 anti-air missiles with 24 launchers.
- The Russian national army was compensated with brand-new S-400s for the S-300 batteries taken out of their arsenals for Syria – a feat of military crash logistics worthy of note.
- On the sidelines, Moscow and Tehran inked in a discreet accord notching up their military collaboration in Syria. It included the immediate transfer to Syria of Iranian teams who had been manning the S-300 missiles protecting their nuclear facilities for the past two years. In return, Tehran granted Moscow landing rights at west Iranian air bases for Russian bombers and freight planes bound for the Mediterranean and Syria
Moscow’s scheme of deception was put together straight after the IL20 plane crash which was seized on as the perfect launching pad for Putin’s next plans for Syria.
Through September, Russian officials spread word that no more than four transporter-erector launchers (TEL) of low capacity would be sent to Syria.
The full scale of the fraud was laid bare on Oct. 10, when the vast quantity of S-300 missiles was revealed. Newly upgraded, they were now up to “combat tasks” and providing “density of fire.” These capabilities will be finally measured when they go into action, but the Russians are sure they can bring down a certain number of hostile aircraft in action over Syria.
The Russian official source also revealed that the S-300s were handed to Syria “free of charge.”
Until those disclosures, US and Israeli air forces commands assumed that the Russian air defense weapons installed in Syria were capable only of engaging high-flying aircraft with specific signatures at longer distances – and only when their radars had good lines-of-sight to their targets. Israel jets were instructed to keep to low-flying sorties and mask their approach to target by using the mountains and high land along Syria’s southern and eastern borders. This plan exploded when Moscow was discovered to have plugged this hole in the S-300 missile shield with additional topline systems, the Pantsir-S1E and Pechora M2s, which are designed to attack low-flying aircraft as well.