DEBKAfile Exclusive Military Report
DEBKAfileâ€™s military experts conclude from the way Damascus described the episode Wednesday, Sept. 6, that the Pantsyr-S1E missiles, purchased from Russia to repel air assailants, failed to down the Israeli jets accused of penetrating northern Syrian airspace from the Mediterranean the night before.
The new Pantsyr missiles therefore leave Syrian and Iranian airspace vulnerable to hostile intrusion.
The Israeli plane or planes were described by a Syrian military spokesman as â€œforced to leave by Syrian air defense fire after dropping ammunition over deserted areas without causing casualties.â€ He warned â€œthe Israeli enemy against repeating its aggressive actionâ€ and said his government reserved the right to respond in an appropriate manner.
Western intelligence circles stress that information on Russian missile consignments to Syria or Iran is vital to any US calculation of whether to attack Iran over its nuclear program. They assume that the â€œabsolute jamming immunityâ€ which the Russian manufactures promised for the improved Pantsyr missiles was immobilized by superior electronic capabilities exercised by the jets before they were â€œforced to leave.â€
Syria took delivery in mid-August of 10 batteries of sophisticated Russian Pantsyr-S1E Air Defense Missile fire control systems with advanced radar, those sources report. They have just been installed in Syria.
Understanding that the Pantsyr-S1E had failed in its mission to bring down trespassing aircraft, Moscow hastened Thursday, Sept 6, to officially deny selling these systems to Syria or Iran and called on Israel to respect international law. This was diplomatic-speak for a warning against attacking the Russian-made missiles batteries stations where Russian instructors are working alongside Syrian teams.
Western intelligence circles maintain that it is vital for the US and Israel to establish the location and gauge the effectiveness of Pantsyr-S1E air defenses in Syrian and Iranian hands, as well as discovering how many each received.
They estimate that at least three or four batteries of the first batch of ten were shipped to Iran to boost its air defense arsenal; another 50 are thought to be on the way, of which Syria will keep 36.
The purported Israeli air force flights over the Pantsyr-S1E site established that the new Russian missiles, activated for the first time in the Middle East, are effective and dangerous but can be disarmed. Western military sources attribute to those Israeli or other air force planes superior electronics for jamming the Russian missile systems, but stress nonetheless that they were extremely lucky to get away unharmed, or at worst, with damage minor enough for a safe return to base.
The courage, daring and operational skills of the air crews must have been exceptional. They would have needed to spend enough time in hostile Syrian air space to execute several passes at varying altitudes under fire in order to test the Pantsyr-S1E responses. Their success demonstrated to Damascus and Tehran that their expensive new Russian anti-air system leaves them vulnerable.
Washington like Jerusalem withheld comment in the immediate aftermath of the episode. After its original disclosure, Damascus too is holding silent. Western intelligence sources believe the Syrians in consultation with the Russians and Tehran are weighing action to gain further media mileage from the incident. They may decide to exhibit some of the â€œammunitionâ€ dropped by the Israeli aircraft as proof of Israelâ€™s contempt for international law. A military response may come next.
Pantsir-S1 or Panzir (â€œShell” in English) is a short-range, mobile air defense system, combining two 30mm anti-aircraft guns and 12 surface-to-air missiles which can fire on the move. It can simultaneously engage two separate targets at 12 targets per minute, ranging from fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, ballistic and cruise missiles, precision-guided munitions and unmanned air vehicles. It can also engage light-armored ground targets.
The Pantsyr S1 short-range air defense system is designed to provide point defense of key military and industrial facilities and air defense support for military units during air and ground operations.
The integrated missile and gun armament creates an uninterrupted engagement zone of 18 to 20 km in range and of up to 10 km in altitude. Immunity to jamming is promised via a common multimode and multi-spectral radar and optical control system. The combined missile and artillery capability makes the Russian system the most advanced air defense system in the world. Syria and Iran believe it provides the best possible protection against American or Israeli air and missile attack. Stationed in al Hamma, at the meeting point of the Syrian-Jordanian and Israeli borders, the missileâ€™s detection range of 30 km takes in all of Israelâ€™s northern air force bases.