(NationalSecurity.news) Iran and a proxy group it funds, Hezbollah, have both received advanced Russia air defense systems, upping the ante for the U.S. and its allies in a war-torn Middle East that seems perpetually mired in conflict.
Israeli intelligence has confirmed to the German newspaper, Bild, that Hezbollah – which has repeatedly vowed to destroy Israel, as has Iran – has acquired the advanced SA-17 Buk anti-aircraft system, which were initially given to the Syrian armed forces. The Times of Israel has also confirmed the report, noting that sophisticated system is a game-changer in the region and will directly threaten Israeli aircraft operating in the northern part of the country and throughout the region, the Washington Times reported.
Nadav Pollack, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, whose research focuses on Hezbollah, called the development “interesting” and said it was “a big deal.”
“Israel calls these weapons ‘tie-breakers,’” Pollack said, using a Hebrew phrase similar to the English “game-changer.”
The Buk is the system Russia-aligned rebels in Ukraine allegedly used to shoot down a Malaysian airliner over the eastern part of the country in 2014, killing all aboard.
The SA-17 is capable of targeting aircraft at low-to-high altitudes and is considered to have medium range. Also, the systems are mobile, which make them harder to locate and destroy.
In the past Israeli fighters have destroyed entire air-defense systems as they were being transferred to Hezbollah. The Times reported that several analysts believe those systems were also SA-17s, meaning Israel takes the threat they pose very seriously.
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The Austin, Texas-based private intelligence agency Stratfor has also said that Hezbollah forces are building fortified positions inside Syria in a bid to attack Israeli forces. The Times noted that Hezbollah has stated in the past that once the Syrian war winds down it will again turn its focus on defeating Israel.
In addition to Hezbollah receiving Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles, Iran has begun to receive shipments of S-300 air defense missile systems, some of the most advanced in the world. Also a medium-range system, it is capable of engaging multiple aircraft at low-to-high altitude up to 90 miles away.
The S-300 is a battle-tested system that is now in high demand by militaries around the world, though previously, UN sanctions prevented Moscow from selling them to Iran. The nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration, however, lifted those restrictions. Russia is looking to sell as many weapons systems as possible to Iran as a way to raise hard currency in a moribund economy.
Israel strongly opposes the sale of S-300s to Iran, knowing that the systems will make it much more difficult for Israeli fighters to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons infrastructure.
In addition to purchasing the S-300, Iran plans to license production of the Russian T-90 tank and has expressed interest in front-line Russian fighters like the SU-34. Russia is also assisting Iran in rebuilding its nuclear energy capability, the Times reported.