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Iran sells advanced radar system to Syria



The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Iran allegedly sold Syria an advanced radar system in an arms transfer that took place in mid-2009. The article did not disclose the name of the radar technology, but did say that the arms transfer was confirmed by both Israeli and American intelligence officials.

The radar transfer is yet another episode in the ongoing Iran-Syria-Hezbollah defense alliance. It also demonstrates that the 2007 United Nations Security Council resolution banning Iranian arms sales to foreign nations is indeed feckless. If this report is accurate, the radar transfer will benefit all three players in this Shia power axis.

Hezbollah: The radar system will most likely aid Hezbollah in its ongoing insurgency campaign on Israel's northern border by warning insurgents of Israeli F-16 sorties. While the radar technology is unknown to the general public at this point, it may also serve to help coordinate Hezbollah rocket attacks into Israel.

Syria: New radar technology will serve Syria because it will help shield its borders (including the Golan Heights) from another preemptive strike by Israel. On September 6, 2007, IDF fighter planes preemptively attacked a secret nuclear facility near the Syrian town of Dayr az-Zawr, close to the Iraqi border. While Israeli government officials officially denied involvement in the bombing, it is widely believed that this strike stunted Syria's nuclear ambitions. A new radar system on Syrian soil would make future attacks far more risky.

Iran: The radar transfer benefits Tehran in a number of ways. First, it provides Iran with a forward operating radar system on Israel's border, effectively preventing an IDF sneak attack against Iran's nuclear program. Second, it diverts American and European attention away from Iranian nuclear ambitions by creating a more immediate security concern between Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Finally, it strengthens Iran's ability to launch yet another sophisticated proxy war against Israel via Hezbollah and Hamas. Since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, Israeli intelligence officials believe that Hezbollah's rocket and missile cache has grown to over 40,000. Any hint of a preemptive attack on Iran by Israel or the US is sure to light a dangerous fuse in the Levant.

The loser in this defense alliance (besides the United States and Europe) is Lebanon, whose fledgling democracy is on life support due to the alliance between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Lebanon's hopes for political autonomy will continue to shrink as long as there is an open arms smuggling route from Tehran to Lebanon via Damascus.

What is unknown is how Turkey will react to the growing strength of its neighbors. In recent months, Istanbul has warmed to Tehran and Damascus over Prime Minister Erdogan's proposed nuclear-swap deal. Western observers will have to wait and see if the growing power of Iran and Syria work counter to the Turkish national interest.



READER COMMENTS: "Iran sells advanced radar system to Syria"

Posted by Civy at July 2, 2010 1:06 AM ET:

I have a very serious recommendation to make to the IAF - buy a handful of US B-1 bombers.

They were designed to fly down in ground-clutter where no RADAR can find them, they are supersonic with a software change, have a defacto ceiling somewhere above 65,000 ft to overfly most SAMS (with some engine tweaks), and have the range to attack Iran via any number of routes and return safely home. With no room to climb out of ground clutter inside Israeli airspace, this platform is tailor made for the IAF.

Watching the events of the South Lebanon War unfold, it was very clear to me that not having a heavy bomber fleet was severely limiting the IAFs ability to make an impact. I have read claims that a single B-1 can deliver more bombs on target in a 24 hr cycle than an entire aircraft carrier group. The ability to mine large areas to deny enemy troops movement would be a priceless capability against light forces dependent on maneuver for their survival.

As for Iran, with standoff weapons like JASSOWs, for tactical purposes, the B1 has all of the capabilities of the B2, and at 10% of the price.

Since the USAF seems to think scuttling their B-1 fleet in favor of the ridiculously old and inept B-52s is a great way to pout about having to live within a budget, Israel would either get a bargain or force the USAF to stop behaving like spoiled brats. The US taxpayer wins either way.

In addition to nuclear missiles, and new German-built nuclear-capable diesel submarines, Israel would then have it's own three-pronged nuclear threat visa-vie Iran.

This would afford Israel a LOT of security, give Iran reason to pause in their self-defeating march towards becoming a nuclear power, and give the US something it hasn't had in a long time - a nuclear deterrent that doesn't make US citizens targets. This looks to me to be a win-win-win all the way around.

Posted by David Eliezer at July 2, 2010 12:03 PM ET:

Doesn't the survivability of the radar depend on the user's skill in turning it off/on? Can't these radars be targeted a la Wild Weasel strikes, daring them to turn it on, and firing HARMs when they do? Can any experts out there enlighten me?

Posted by Civy at July 2, 2010 1:02 PM ET:

David,
The Soviet/Russian SA-10/12/20s are modular systems whose components can be located far from each other. In particular, targeting and tracking RADARs and launch vehicles can be hundreds of miles apart. Given the remote areas Israel's enemies operate in, land lines nor optic fiber links are not likely options, so microwave or satellite links would have to provide linking telemetry. This is a weakness and offers a method of attack.

HARM missiles were virtually worthless during the Kosovo campaign, and the US funded a development program to improve them as a result. The status of that effort is unknown to me.

After one HARM missile attacked a guy in a nearby country using an electric shaver, homing on its signal, it was obvious to all that our HARM missiles needed work.

Having researched this issue extensively I believe sensor-fused, GPS banded, anti-armor munitions would be more effective than HARM missiles, as the SA-10/12/20 are very large and heavy systems with a lot of metal and heat to target. Relying on thrust vectoring, they must also, necessarily, be very large missiles, which makes the attendant systems very large, heavy, slow, easy to track, hard to hide, and easy to target.

The B1 is uniquely qualified to succeed at such missions because of its ability to attack high and visible and low and invisible at the same time. They can pick their poison, but die they will. This hi-lo strategy will work with any SAM except the SA-10/12/20s, which have a ceiling over 100,000 ft. Most SAM systems are limited to less than 60,000 ft because they use airfoils/wingletts for maneuvering, and in very thin air, they stall and tumble. I also believe the Israeli DIME active armor defense system could be fitted to a B1, making it almost invulnerable to SAMs.

JASSOW rocket and glide delivery systems would allow a low-level penetrator to launch the rocket version over 100km from the target. Popping up over the Golan Heights, launching, and then bugging out comes to mind.

You are right that with skilled operators, SAMs and anti-radiation bombers play a cat and mouse game, but I believe I have figured out a nearly sure-fire way to defeat SAM systems. If someone with the proper credentials is interested I would be willing to discuss my approach, but since this strategy applies to all SAM systems I will not discuss it in an open forum.