In Syria, Russian Air Defenses Involve Much Bark and Little Bite

Oct. 20 2017

In September, a Syrian chemical-weapons plant was destroyed, most likely by Israeli airplanes, not far from a high-tech Russian anti-aircraft installation. Yet Russian troops did not respond to—or attempt to prevent—this attack on their Syrian ally. Nor has Moscow acted to protect its coalition partners from numerous other Israeli airstrikes over the past few years. Likewise, Russia did not retaliate when the U.S. launched cruise missiles at a Syrian air-force base in April. Guy Plopsky concludes that, despite repeated threats, the Kremlin wishes to avoid conflict with either America or Israel:

Moscow’s warnings to Israel are . . . directed more toward the Syrian and Russian public than they are toward Jerusalem. Offering no threatening response to Israeli airstrikes would make the Kremlin appear weak, prompting pro-Assad factions to question Moscow’s commitment to the regime and weakening Russia’s influence.

At the same time, Russia has been rebuilding Syria’s air defenses in the hope that they would deter both Israel and the coalition from further strikes. Russia’s defense ministry has mentioned Syrian air defenses in warnings directed at coalition forces and has pledged to “increase [their] effectiveness.” . . .

As for Russia’s own air defenses, Moscow has not utilized them to defend Assad’s forces and is unlikely to do so for fear of an armed confrontation with the U.S. and its partners. Indeed, while Syrian fighters are known to have flown escort missions for Russian strike aircraft, the reverse has not occurred. Furthermore, like Israel, the U.S. maintains a de-confliction line with Russia and has developed agreements to avoid clashes. . . .

Contrary to Kremlin rhetoric, targeting stealth aircraft and cruise missiles remains a major challenge for Russian air defenses. Furthermore, due to the radar horizon limit, even non-stealth aircraft can significantly reduce detection by flying at very low altitudes. Also, sophisticated electronic-warfare systems can degrade the performance of enemy radar. Hence, at long ranges, [even the best Russian surface-to-air missiles] can realistically be expected to intercept only cumbersome targets successfully. . . .

This does not mean Russia’s air defenses in Syria should be neglected. On the contrary: Jerusalem and Washington must keep a close watch, particularly as the post-Islamic State stage of the Syrian conflict sets in.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. military

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America