An Israeli government official has boasted that the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) American-made F-35 stealth fighter jet can beat the newly transferred Russian S-300 air defense system, now in Damascus’ hands.
This comes after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last week vowed to continue striking Iranian and Hezbollah targets inside Syria despite news of Russia following through with the transfer.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reports that Tzachi Hanegbi, the country’s regional cooperation minister and member of Israel’s security cabinet, was asked in an interview whether S-300 missiles in the hands of the Syrians would bring Israeli air strikes to a halt. Hanegbi replied with a confident, “Unequivocally, no.”
“The operational abilities of the air force are such that those (S-300) batteries really do not constrain the air force’s abilities to act,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
Israel began receiving the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters over a year ago, something Hanegbi referenced by saying, “You know that we have stealth fighters, the best planes in the world. These batteries are not even able to detect them.”
Israel will now rely on the fighter’s advanced stealth capabilities to avoid detection by the anti-air defense systems to attempt to continue its raids with impunity, or at least that’s what Israeli leaders are telegraphing to their enemies. However, the confirmed S-300 transfer to Syria certainly ups the risk factor significantly should the IAF decide on continued operations.
Meanwhile an IAF official in a separate Israeli media interview said “The coming attacks won’t be the first, but they will be safer for the pilots in light of the new reality in Syria’s skies,” and referenced the IAF’s F-35 use as relying upon “most expensive weapon in the world.”
Israel purchased each F-35 jet for $125 million, and while eight of the plans have been delivered thus far, 33 more are expected to arrive by 2021, according to recent IDF statements.
The jets possess a cutting edge electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system that theoretically will suppress the signals of advanced missile defense systems such as the S-300 or others, but time will tell if Russian countermeasures are able to thwart any future raids.
Last summer an Israeli military official boasted that the IAF had struck 200 times over the year prior. But given Russia’s following through on its word to deliver the lethal and significantly more capable S-300 to Syria, it appears the gloves are now off.
And Syria, now largely victorious over the 7-year long jihadist insurgency that threatened President Assad’s rule will now be in a greater position to act.
Damascus will most likely be very willing to pull the trigger once its S-300’s come online (which Russian officials indicated this week would happen by October 20) should it again come under attack.