Putin's war in Syria: Russia restricts the strongest air force in the Middle East - Haaretz

20:40 Oct. 24, 2016

Russia restricts the strongest air force in the Middle East - Haaretz

Russian S-400 AA systems in Khmeimim airbase in Syria (by Daily Mail)

One of Israel's leading media experts on military and defense issues Amos Harel in his article for Haaretz analyzed Putin's gains and losses in Middle East

Over the past few weeks, Russia has finished beefing up its aerial defenses in northern Syria. The Washington Post, after interviewing American experts, published a map last week showing the estimated radius of coverage of Russia's S-300 and S-400 systems, which are bolstered by anti-aircraft missiles on ships in the port of Tartus. The 380-kilometer radius covers Lebanon, much of Turkey and Jordan, the eastern Mediterranean until out beyond Cyprus, a bit of Iraq, and Israel all the way to the northern Negev.

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S-400 and S-300 missile batteries gives Russia the ability to shoot down planes and cruise missiles over at least 250 miles in all directions from western Syria (by WP)

The paper said the Pentagon isn't sure whether, if necessary, it could penetrate these aerial defense systems, since the question hasn't yet arisen. Presumably, America has electronic warfare systems capable of disrupting even dense anti-aircraft coverage. But the Post said Russia's coverage limits Washington's ability not only to launch air strikes on Syrian military targets, but also to create no-fly zones to protect civilians, an idea both U.S. presidential candidates say they support.

Russia's beefed-up deployment also affects Israel, which, according to foreign media reports, has launched numerous air strikes on arms convoys from Syria to Hezbollah in recent years. Based on the Washington Post's map, an Israeli plane couldn't take off from Tel Nof airbase without being tagged by Russian radar.

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Radius of coverage of Russian AA systems according to The Daily Mail

Read also Aleppo's bombing on the same scale as before 'humanitarian pause'

The limitations aren't just military, but also diplomatic. Israel and Russia have set up a mechanism to prevent clashes in Syrian airspace, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin four times over the last year to further that purpose.

Having no other choice, Netanyahu has nurtured his Russian romance. But in reality, this romance is about as romantic as Donald Trump's groping of women. It's a romance to which Israel was forced to consent once the Russian bear decided to move into its backyard.

Russia apparently reinforced its aerial defenses in response to American condemnations of its bombing of Aleppo, and due to concern, apparently unwarranted, that the Obama administration might actually take military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Though Russia's economy is crumbling, Putin keeps pushing the envelope, including with frequent hints about the danger of nuclear war, attempts to sabotage the U.S. presidential election and surprising moves in the Mideast, like this month's announcement that Russia and Egypt will hold a joint military exercise.

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Radius of coverage of S-400 and S-300 batteries according to Russian propagandist media (with missiles reaching even Turkish capital)

Read also White House: Russia supports the Assad military campaign against Syrian people

But since Russia invests great effort in confusing and deterring its rivals, its real intentions are hard to decipher. And the fact that Israel's intelligence community curtailed research into Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed doesn't make understanding Putin's plans any easier.

Dr. Dmitry Adamsky, a senior lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya who also teaches at military colleges, described the Kremlin's decision making as a well thought-out process based on long-term strategic thinking. He said Russia sees itself as engaged in self-defense against Western aggression in both Eastern Europe (the conflict in Ukraine and efforts to expand NATO) and the Arab world (NATO's operation in Libya and the West's abandoned effort to promote regime change in Syria).

Russia's intervention in Syria, he wrote, is its first such move of the post-Soviet era and its biggest military operation since the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Russian army's Central Command rehearsed the operation, code-named Operation Caucasus 3, about two months before sending forces to Syria in September 2015.

Read also Smoke on water: Russian's only carrier filmed passing English Channel

After a year of fighting in Syria, Adamsky wrote, Russia can allow itself to be cautiously optimistic.

But the same isn't true of Israel, he implied. Since Hezbollah is participating in the Russian-led campaign, the organization is learning sophisticated Russian combat doctrines and tactics. This knowledge could greatly increase its military capabilities, especially in deploying special forces to rack up offensive achievements in a future clash with Israel.

Russia's success in Syria isn't yet complete, nor has Putin met his original timetable. In autumn 2015, he expected a three-month offensive in which Russian air power and Syrian troops, with Iranian backing, would capture Aleppo and Idlib and clear the rebels from northeast Syria.

Read also Russian propaganda trying to connect Syrian and Ukrainian issues

The Iranian forces did arrive, but other problems quickly emerged. Assad's troops, worn down by years of fighting, barely functioned; Hezbollah suffered heavy losses; and Iran's spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, ordered the Iranian troops home, leaving only a few hundred advisers in Syria. This forced Russia to move to plan B, exemplified by its carpet bombing of Aleppo in recent months – a war crime committed in full view of the world, with no regard for the consequences.

Assad has regained some territory and blocked the rebels' momentum. But the Sunni rebels haven't stopped fighting, and so far, Russia's intervention doesn't seem to have brought the end of the war any nearer.

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