Editor’s note: This report comes from DEBKA which is a publication from the Israeli militant right-wing. It is also an sometimes accused of being an outlet for the Israeli intelligence. As such some of its reports may not reflect reality, or even what DEBKA editors believe is, or may be, reality–but merely what information the Israeli uber-hawks want out there. Nonetheless, the theory presented is an interesting one, and not entirely implausible. Syria does not have crews trained to man its new Russian-made S-300 air defense systems, but Iran on the other hand has had these missiles for a few years now and has such operators. It is within the realm of possibility that until Syrians can be brought to speed it will be Iranians (rather than Russians) who will be manning Syria’s new S-300s.
DEBKA Exclusive: The US and Israel were alarmed to learn that Moscow had decided to man the S-300 anti-air missiles sent to Syria with Iranian teams, DEBKAfile’s exclusive sources report. US and Israeli intelligence agencies which brought the news to Washington and Jerusalem also reported that the Russians had begun flying the Iranian operatives over to Syria.
Moscow announced the supply of S-300 air defense missiles to Syria in the wake of its row with Israel over the Russian Il-20 spy plane crash on Sept. 17. But, on the quiet, Moscow also decided that they would be operated by Iranian teams. And so Syria received the exact same air defense system that Russia sold to Iran two years ago – the S-300PMU-2 – which was installed for protecting its nuclear sites. American and Israeli military experts were caught by surprise by this discovery, but our sources reported the Russians were giving Syria outdated batteries.
One of Moscow’s considerations was that Iranian crews operating the Syrian-based S-300s will be in harm’s instead of Russian teams in the event of US or Israeli aircraft making direct hits on the systems.
For Israel this move has both good and bad aspects: On the one hand it will be a relief for Israeli aircrews to know that when they go for Syria’s S-300 air defense batteries, they need not fear hurting Russian troops; but, on the other, by managing Syria’s air defenses, Iran further strengthens is military foothold in Syria, which the Netanyahu government is dedicated to rooting out. By the same token, Iran takes Moscow’s decision as an endorsement of its claim to a solid military presence in Syria.
Shortly after DEBKAfile published this revelation on Monday, our military and intelligence sources discovered further that Russia has supplied Syria with three S-300 battalion sets, each consisting of eight launchers with a 100 missiles per launcher. They all underwent major overhauls in Russia’s arms factories. Russia has therefore deployed to Syria a total of 300 anti-air missiles – albeit outdated but in tiptop condition.