Friday December 19, 2014
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19.12.2014
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SA-17: Mobile, accurate, and difficult to destroy
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Aharon Lapidot

The game-changer

Unlike Syria, which has accused Israel of targeting one of its defense-related facilities on Wednesday, the foreign media has reported that Israel actually hit a convoy carrying "game-changing" weapon systems to Hezbollah on the Syrian-Lebanese border (near the Bekaa Valley).

If that latter report is true, what kind of arms could qualify as "game-changing?"

The media has been all abuzz about the possibility that the alleged convoy was carrying SA-17 systems. The SA-17, dubbed "Grizzly" by Western armies, includes Russian-made surface to air missiles, and is considered the successor to the SA-6 (which debuted in our part of the world in the 1970s).

The SA-17's mobility and flexible modus operandi make it highly dangerous. It can be fired from a vehicle and can be easily concealed. It can down aircraft that fly at high altitudes (over 40,000 feet), as well as at low altitudes, and engage several targets simultaneously. Moreover, because the SA-17 has an effective range of about 30 km (18.6 miles), Israeli pilots were forced to adapt their training routines.

The truth is that the Syrian military also has the Pantsir-S1 system, which is more advanced than the SA-17 and has better precision. In fact, it is one of the most modern air defense system of its kind. According to various reports, that system was used to down a Turkish Phantom jet near the Syrian border last summer. If Hezbollah were to lay its hands on this armored rocket system, Israel Air Force activity in Lebanese and Israeli airspace would be severely compromised.

As for the arms in the so-called "scientific research facility" that Israel allegedly targeted on Wednesday, it is important to keep in mind that Syria has in its arsenal upgraded SCUD-C and SCUD-D missiles. These high-precision surface-to-surface missiles, whose warheads could weigh half a ton or more, can inflict substantial damage.

With a range of hundreds of kilometers, they can strike the greater Tel Aviv area and targets that lie even farther south. So long as the David's Sling interceptor is not fully operational, Israel will have a problem countering the threat posed by medium-range missiles. Should Hezbollah lay its hands on such systems, even a handful of them, it will have upset the current balance of power.

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