Russia this week completed delivery of its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile shield to Syria following promises to do so two weeks ago when the Syrian army mistakenly downed an Ilyushin IL-20 reconnaissance airplane and falsely put the blame for the disaster on the Israeli Air Force (IAF).
On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video showing the night-time delivery of the S-300 system which was flown to the Hmeimim airbase in the Latakia province in northwest Syria.
"We have finished personnel recruitment and have begun to train them," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said after the delivery of the S-300, referring to the fact that the Syrian army isn’t yet capable of operating the system.
"In conformity with the presidential decision, we have begun to carry out a number of measures to reinforce Syria’s air defense systems in order to ensure better protection for our servicemen,” Shoigu said according to the state-controlled Tass news agency.
“We have completed the delivery of S-300 systems. It included 49 pieces of equipment, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers," the Russian DM added.
The Russians estimate it will take another three months before the Syrian army, which is today an Iranian proxy force, will be able to use the sophisticated missile shield.
Israel Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu earlier warned that giving the S-300 to Syria was “irresponsible,” and vowed to continue airstrikes against Iran-related targets in Syria.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later called the move “a serious escalation” and said the deployment of the shield “presents greater risk to all of those in the affected areas and to stability in the Middle East.”
General Joseph Votel, the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the US Army, also reacted to the delivery of the S-300 batteries to the Syrian military, calling it a “needless escalation”.
He added that the deployment “appears to be an effort to cover for Iranian and Syrian regimes' nefarious activities in Syria.“
The delivery of the S-300 anti-aircraft batteries certainly constitutes a game-changer in the now seven-year-old Syrian civil war, but Israel and the United States are already adjusting their strategy to counter the new threat.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation and a member of the country’s security cabinet, said on Thursday that the IAF will be able to beat the S-300.
“You know that we have stealth fighters, the best planes in the world. These batteries (S-300) are not even able to detect them,” Hanegbi told the Israeli paper Haaretz.
He was referring to the eight US-manufactured F-35I stealth warplanes currently in the possession of the IAF, and which are considered the best fighter jets in the world today.
The F-35I stealth warplanes are equipped with the AESA radar system, which suppresses signals from advanced missile shields such as the S-300.
Israel has purchased 50 of the F-35I Joint Strike Fighters (which operate under the name "Adir" in Israel) at a cost of $125 million each. The Jewish state was scheduled to receive the last of those planes no later than 2021.
That has changed now, according to Israeli media.
US President Donald Trump has reportedly ordered the immediate supply of additional F-35I jets after his meeting with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly gathering last week.
These F-35I planes will be drawn from active US Air Force squadrons and will arrive in Israel soon.
At the same time, the US Air Force will deploy an additional squadron of its own F-35 stealth jets in the Middle East.
Until now, the American air force only had a squadron of F-35B warplanes aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex, which is stationed in the Western Pacific and carries out combat missions in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The Trump Administration this week decided to deploy an additional squadron of F-35 fighter jets at the Al Dhafra air base south of Abu Dhabi.
Together, the Israeli and American F-35 stealth warplanes will be able to neutralize the threat posed by the S-300 anti-aircraft missile shield, and, as General Votel put it, continue their mission “in this environment.”