An Israeli satellite imagery analysis company on Sunday said Syria’s entire S-300 air defense system appeared to be operational, indicating a greater threat to Israel’s ability to conduct airstrikes against Iranian and pro-Iranian forces in the country.
Until now, only three of the country’s four surface-to-air missile launchers had been seen fully erected at the Masyaf base in northwestern Syria.
But satellite photographs released on Sunday showed the fourth in position as well, some nine months after Russia gave the air defense system to Syria, according to Israel’s ImageSat International.
On February 19, the firm said the system generally appeared to be operational, based on multiple satellite images of the battery, other than the fourth launcher.
“The images of the three erected launchers at various times in Syria indicate that they are probably operational,” the firm wrote on its website at the time.
ImageSat said at the time that the fourth launcher, which has now been seen erected, was “possibly an invalid, dummy or a different element that serves as deception.”
Israel has threatened to destroy the S-300 system if it is used against its fighter jets, regardless of the potential blowback from Russia.
Moscow announced it was providing the Syrian military with the advanced system following the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike in September. Russia publicly blamed Israel for the loss of the reconnaissance aircraft and its 15 crew members, saying the Israeli pilots used the spy plane as cover during the strike.
The charge was rejected by Jerusalem, which blamed the downing of the Russian aircraft on Syrian troops firing their air defenses wildly and continuing to do so after the Israeli fighter jets left the area.
Russia has said the S-300 platform it was giving Syria following September’s incident would “cool off hot heads” in the region.
In addition to interceptor missile launchers, Moscow also provided Syria with new radars, targeting systems and command centers.
Since the system was delivered in October, Russia has been training Syrian forces to operate the powerful air defense platform.
For years, Israel has been waging a campaign against Damascus’s ally Iran, which Jerusalem accuses of attempting to establish a permanent military presence in Syria to threaten the Jewish state.
Syria’s acquisition and eventual operation of the S-300 system marked a substantial improvement in its air defense capabilities. However, Israel has long been rumored to be capable of maneuvering around the system or destroying it, though that would risk a major diplomatic rift with Russia, the most influential superpower in the region.
Israel says it has carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets, as part of its campaign to prevent Tehran from establishing a military presence in Syria.
The Syrian military last year said it believed the S-300 air defense systems would largely stop Israel from successfully conducting strikes against targets in the country.