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

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem