Syria has S125 antiaircraft systems, Hezbollah has SA18

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The commanders speak at the Herzliya Conference; there is no money for the
Merkava; and the growing internal threat in Israel. Amir Rapaport reports in
his weekly column
Amir Rapaport  3/2/2012

Only a few hundred meters stand between an Israeli Air Force Base and the
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. Speeches given by the IDF chief
of staff and the IAF commander revealed a little and hinted more: the IDF is
in a spree for preparations towards the next confrontation, in a genuine
arms race not seen for dozens of years.

The only question that seems unanswered, at the start of February 2012, is
precisely where the fuse will first be lit: in a front against Iran, in the
north against Hezbollah or Syria, or perhaps against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. There’s also a possibility that we will pass the next few months
without a military conflict, but no kind of conflict should be received with

We begin with the Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan. Nechushtan
prepared for the speech he gave in the framework of the Fischer Institute’s
Space Conference in cooperation with NASA. However, he had to make it
straight from the debriefings that took place at the start of the week due
to the crash of the huge Eitan UAV (this wasn't just another accident, but
one with significant strategic significance, as the aircraft is part of the
long-ranged arm of the air force, and there are only few of its kind. It
takes many months for the IAI to construct such an aircraft).

Nechushtan is a veteran of the General Staff, with a foot and a half in
civilian life. He gave a pessimistic, but realistic review of the unstable
regional situation. Beyond his clear speech, two of his hints were rather
interesting: he implied that the IAF is forced to deal with advanced
antiaircraft systems in the northern front for the first time in dozens of

Nechushtan did not specify, but since Syria has Russian SA18 systems for
several years (in stationary, and not portable, versions), and they want
very advanced S-300 systems (but have not yet received them from Russia),
then it can be assumed he meant the S125 systems. These systems are a trying
challenge, one that will make it difficult for the air force to roam the
Syrian skies freely as in the past decade, such as in the attack of the
nuclear reactor in Dir-Azur, which foreign publications have attributed to
Israel. Syria has equipped itself with this system as a lesson from that

No less interesting, Nechushtan discussed the possibility of the
proliferation of Russian antiaircraft weapons to Hezbollah, such as might
happen if the Assad regime collapses (this will happen soon, according to
updated assessments; Assad himself will apparently move to Moscow). Since
Hezbollah already has SA18 missiles, according to assessments, which the
Syrians previously transferred to the organization, it can be assumed that
Nechushtan is concerned that Hezbollah is preparing to utilize antiaircraft
systems at a state level. One could have heard the latent threat in his
words, that Israel will not accept the transfer of such measures to
Hezbollah. Will the meaning be a preemptive strike? Is Nasrallah listening?

What about Iran? On this issue, Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan did not utter a
single word. However, his last months as commander will be outlined by the
possibility that an attack will happen. Nechushtan is supposed to conclude
his position in May. It is quite possible that the exchange will be
postponed if the attack is relevant.

This week, the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, finally began interviewing
candidates for the position. Maj. Gen. Yochanan Locker, the prime minister's
current military secretary, and Brig. Gen. Nimrod Reshef, the air force’s
head of staff, are just statistics in this game. The next IAF commander will
be the current head of the Planning Branch, although Netanyahu initially
wanted Locker (at least before he led the complaint against Natan Eshel, his
head of bureau, on charges of sexual harassment).

Locker will apparently be the next IDF attaché in Washington. Reshef will be
the Head of the Planning Branch, and will compete for the position after
Eshel. Another key candidate for the position in 2016 is Brig. Gen. Amikam
Norkin, who will finish commanding the air force’s Tel Nof base next week,
and will be appointed the head of IAF operations.

The Gantz Speech

In an enormous tent erected at the outskirts of the Interdisciplinary Center
in Herzliya, with hundreds of chairs organized in rows in front of a stage,
the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, goes up and gives a good
performance with quite a speech. Gantz’s words (the enemy has “armament
firepower of an exceptional strength, which covers every point in Israel"
and all the other headlines which were quoted extensively in the media) were
also strengthened by the words of Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the head of the
Directorate of Military Intelligence (he said that about 200,000 missiles
threatened Israel).

Is the security situation really so sensitive and explosive, or is this just
intimidation for the purposes of the struggle over the defense budget? If a
survey were carried out among the populace over the question, it’s probable
that most of the people would choose answer B, because after decades of
scary descriptions, the proverb of the man who cried “wolf” is relevant. The
truth is that this time, the answer A is correct. The situation is very

The arenas against Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah could certainly erupt, and we’ve
not even mentioned the Gaza Strip. The rocket salvo towards the south on the
night between Wednesday and Thursday was a reminder that this arena is also
alive and kicking. The IDF is preparing itself for a broad operation in the
Gaza Strip (it’s no secret: Gantz discussed it repeatedly in the recent
weeks, even prior to his Herzliya speech). If the IDF finds itself in the
Gaza Strip due to additional salvos, it will also be because the recent
preparations tend to fulfill themselves (at least according to history), and
because from a military perspective, “handling" Hamas is an assignment for
which the IDF is very much prepared.

The goals of a Gaza operation could be even more far-reaching than in
Operation Cast Lead; they could include the dissection of the strip into
several parts, or perhaps even completely taking over it for several months,
in order to topple the Hamas regime and open a doorway for the Palestinian
Authority to take over.

No Money, No Merkava

And on to another proverb: let’s say that there was a crazy wave of
burglaries in all of our neighborhoods -would it be reasonable to assume
that many residents would install increased protection measures and would
purchase insurance policies? Probably so. This is natural behavior. So why,
as a country which finds itself in 2012 in a very troublesome environment,
are we not increasing our insurance policy, but rather, reducing the defense

This is because the public is captivated by the “cry wolf” concept, and
because the Prime Minister is very busy in appeasing public opinion since
the social protests of the summer. Compulsory education from the age of
three is a bone the Prime Minister is immediately throwing to the public. We
might end up paying dearly in a few years for the fact that the defense
budget was cut in a year that saw the deterioration of the peace agreement
with Egypt—our largest neighbor.

In the meantime, the need to build power for the southern front, and the
fact that the defense budget did not increase, but was actually somewhat
minimized, is a reason that the defense establishment has frozen significant
investments, and halted orders for the Merkava tank and Namer APC projects,
among other things.

The freezing of these budgets is also perceived as another spin, and the
truth is a bit different in this case as well. It can be assumed that the
project will continue, but will eventually be diminished. It should be
remembered that the current Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, is not a
follower of the notion of acquiring many armored appliances. When he was the
commander of the Ground Forces, prior to the Second Lebanon War, he even led
a dramatic move to cut the number of tanks (which was eventually not
implemented, following the eruption of the war). Even if Gantz thought that
the number of Namers ordered in the framework of the plan for the years
2011-2020 is exaggerated, he is not alone: quite a few share this opinion,
including some in the political echelon. The problem is that the Ministry of
Defense committed to ordering a minimal (no small number) amount of APCs
when it signed the deal with the US company GDLS. An assembly line for the
Namer chassis was even opened in the city of Lima, Ohio in the framework of
the deal.

The Internal BombBefore concluding, another arena, one that isn’t routinely in the headlines:
the danger of the radicalization among the Arab population in Israel. This
bomb is ticking as well, and it might receive some response when the
Minister for Internal Security Itzhal Aharonovich, presents a program for
establishing police stations and increased law enforcement in Arab
settlements to the Prime Minister.The increased enforcement should make the establishment of terrorist cells
within the Israeli Arab population more difficult (to be precise, the amount
of hostile terrorist activity among the Arab populace is currently
insignificant, but there is fertile ground for it grow). The problem is that
the program is only meant to have a budget of 200 million NIS, and the
increased law enforcement in the Arab sector is meant to be deployed over
the course of five years. It’s doubtful this amount will be enough.
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2 thoughts on “Syria has S125 antiaircraft systems, Hezbollah has SA18

  1. Pingback: Syria has S125 antiaircraft systems, Hezbollah has SA18 « Middle East atemporal

  2. Pingback: Letter from Israel to the World « The Second Semester

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