In recent weeks, Russia has completed the creation in Syria of a network of surface-to-air missiles as well as electronic-warfare devices that can jam mobile phones, radar, and the like and interfere with the systems used by aircraft. The most advanced Russian anti-aircraft missiles now provide protection to almost the entire country, and their range extends into northern Israeli airspace. Matti Suomenaro and Jennifer Cafarella discuss the implications for both Washington and Jerusalem:
Russia is using its electronic-warfare systems to monitor and disrupt operations by the U.S. anti-Islamic-State coalition in Syria. . . . Russia is likely to continue, if not to escalate, its use of electronic warfare against the U.S. in Syria. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu stated on September 24 that Russia would jam the satellite navigation, airborne radar, and communication systems of combat aircraft in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in order to protect its facilities on the Syrian coast. Shoygu likely issued this threat in order to deter future strikes by the U.S. and Israel against Syria. . . . The U.S. must be prepared to defend against a future escalation that combines electronic warfare with ground operations against its partner forces in eastern Syria.
Russia ultimately aims to use its technical capabilities as part of its wider campaign to force the withdrawal from Syria of the U.S.-backed coalition. Russia can use these systems to decrease the overall freedom of maneuver—and increase the overall risk—faced by the U.S. in Syria, [thus raising] the cost of future airstrikes aimed at deterring chemical-weapons attacks by Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. [These systems] also increase the cost of future strikes by Israel against Iran in Syria.
The U.S. and Israel both must be prepared to suppress a larger number of air-defense systems and use more expensive stealth aircraft, such as the F-35, in Syria. Russia stands to gain a long-term strategic advantage over NATO through its new capabilities in Syria. The U.S. and NATO must now account for the risk of a dangerous escalation in the Middle East alongside any confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.