Syrian Armed Forces Revamped
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15 January: The Syrian army has begun striking out in new directions for the first time since Bashar Asad succeeded his father as president seven years ago, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reveal.
Two new mechanized divisions are under construction. When they are completed in the coming spring, the Syrian armed forces will consist of 12 divisions – five deployed opposite Israel on the Golan, of which 3 are in forward positions facing Israeli troops and tanks and 2 further back on call as reinforcements should war erupt.
Two armored divisions are stationed outside the Syrian towns of Homs and Der’a; the Republican Guard division 569 is permanently assigned to securing the ruling Asad family in Damascus; an infantry division is posted on the Syrian-Turkish border and another on the Syria-Iraq frontier.
Hafez Asad’s military doctrine was based on Syria being too poor in money and technology to maintain modern air and naval forces; it must therefore rely on a very strong anti-air defense system based on large quantities of medium range missiles, mostly Soviet Scuds-B, -C and -D, equipped with chemical and biological warheads. These missiles are capable of reaching every densely-populated corner of Israel.
Asad senior also bought a huge fleet of tanks from Moscow.
Today, the Syrian army is one of the few in the world, outside Africa and the Third World, to maintain in active service the anachronistic T-54 and T-55 tanks. The later model, T-72, is obsolete too, and most would be destroyed in combat with up-to-date tanks.
When Asad the younger assumed power in June 2000, he more or less adhered to his father’s military concept with two important exceptions:
He signed a mutual defense pact with Iran binding each country to come to the aid of the other against an external aggressor. The pact covered a merger between the Syrian and Iranian military industries, including Syria’s missile factories (the biggest is an underground facility near the northern town of Homs). Syria thus procured advanced missile technology from Iran.
Asad’s second project was to develop commando units for penetrating Israel’s home front in the even of a war with the Jewish state. Ten of these battalions have been created.
But the Israel-Hizballah war of summer 2006 was the Syrian ruler’s real eye-opener.
He saw the legendary IDF fail to subdue the enemy; Hizballah pounding northern Israel’s towns and villages day after day and forcing one million Israelis to abandon their homes. And he saw Hizballah using anti-tank rockets with devastating effect against advancing Israeli armored forces regardless of steady Israeli air bombardment.
The Syrian army has consequently undergone fundamental changes in weaponry and self-perception:
1. Its high command has been freed of its long sense of military inferiority to the IDF, despite Israel’s considerable strength.
2. There will therefore be far less inhibitions in the way of retaliating for Israeli military attacks, big or small, against Syrian territory. This freedom from restraint could also apply to Israeli spy planes penetrating Syrian air space.
3. Syria is preparing its army, especially the commando battalions, for such reprisals to take the form of cross-border operations.
4. Since the second half of November, 2006, small special units of 10-12 men are in training as terrorist teams for strikes inside Israel, starting with the Israeli Golan.
5. Anti-tank rockets have been introduced as standard equipment in all units down to company level.
6. In Moscow last month, the Syrian president signed a big arms deal with Russia.
7. He was taken round a base near Moscow for a display of the latest Russian anti-air missiles. In particular, he examined the S-300PMU2 FAVORIT system, which is designed to defend strategic facilities and armed forces against attack by modern aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles in heavy ECM environments.
This air defense system is equipped with 30N6E2 fire-control radar, a 96L6E target acquisition and designation radar, eight 5P85SE launchers and 48N6E2 missiles with a range of 200km against aircraft and 40 km against ballistic missiles.
The system can engage six targets simultaneously with 12 missiles.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts describe this as a highly sophisticated, extremely expensive piece of hardware. Each battery costs $600 million.
Our sources report that before he left, Asad clinched a deal with Moscow to purchase this system on credit from Iran as part of Tehran’s arms transactions with the Russians. This is worrisome news indeed. It will place in the radical Asad regime’s hands a strategic weapon capable not only of downing Israeli planes while still in Israeli air space, but also US and European aircraft taking off from carriers in the eastern Mediterranean.