A senior IDF officer has delivered a somber assessment of the presence of the Russian anti-missile defense system currently stationed at Moscow’s Latakia airbase in Syria, which has a range that extends over half of Israel’s airspace.
“In our worst nightmares, we never dreamed we would have the S-400 system in our backyard with Syria, or that there would be cruise missiles here,” the member of the General Staff told Israeli defense correspondents at a briefing this week, the Walla website reported.
But, he qualified, the IDF “does not currently view the S-400 as a threat to Israel.”
Russia moved into the Syrian airbase earlier this year, sending dozens of warplanes and planning to deploy thousands of troops in its move to target Islamic State as well as support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has spent more than four years fighting opposition forces sworn to topple his regime.
The anti-aircraft system — constituting an array radar to monitor the skies and a missile battery — can track and shoot down targets some 400 kilometers (250 miles) away. At its new position on the Syrian coast, that range encompasses as far as Ben Gurion International Airport, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
The Israeli officer also sounded a note of caution over the cooperation between Israel and Russia, which was agreed upon during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin.
“We haven’t flown [in close proximity] since the seventies,” he said of Israel and Russia. “We have a knowledge gap on this issue, as we have been dealing mainly with the Arab world. We and our allies are carrying out a learning process to understand how to deal with this properly.”
By bulking up their air defenses in Syria, the Russians hope to prevent future attacks on their aircraft, such as the incident last week when the Turkish military brought down an Su-24 jet that Ankara claimed had entered its airspace.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report