S-200 in Syria

Today, we are witnessing the prolongation of the conflict between Syria and Israel, which is mostly taking place in the field of aviation and air defense. In the relentless struggle for survival and domination in the Middle East, advanced types of warfare have a decisive say. In addition to Iran, the Russian Federation is Syria’s main supplier of weapons systems, thus continuing the tradition of the Soviet Union, which helped Syria maintain parity with Israel for decades. The last major showdown in the presence of the Soviets took place during the Israeli operation “Peace for Galilee”. The Israeli army entered the territory of Lebanon, trying to destroy the Palestinian forces. The Syrian army also entered the territory of Lebanon in order to prevent the Israeli advance. Much has passed since the great confrontation between the Israeli and Syrian armies in 1973, and the means of warfare have partially changed. The backbone of the Israeli army in every war is its aviation, so the means of air defense or aviation are the answer without which one could not even imagine a war with Israel. In the first phase of the conflict, the main problem for the Israeli aviation was the “Cube” missile systems deployed in the Bekaa Valley. While the developed batteries existed, Israel could not completely rule the skies of Lebanon. That is why they carried out the operation “Arcav 19” with the aim of liquidating the batteries of the “Kub” system. Using cunning, launching drones in front, long-range artillery strikes from the ground and planes armed with long-range missiles, the Israelis managed to inflict heavy losses on medium-range air defense systems. The Soviet Union continued to deliver equipment and send specialists to train the Syrian staff and organize air defense. However, as it turned out in the following period, that was not enough. The last “slap” was experienced during the destruction of  10 “Shilka” systems in cooperation with the American aircraft AWACS E-2C Hawkeye, which determined the exact position of the air defense system with radar devices, after which they were hit by AGM-45 Shrike missiles. In addition to reorganizing the existing air defense assets, the Soviet political leadership, led by Yuri Andropov, decided to put an end to Israeli domination by delivering the then most powerful air defense system, the S-200. Thus began Operation Caucasus-2.


A contingent of eight thousand Soviet soldiers was sent to Syria in several stages together with the S-200 system, which could operate on planes up to 200 km. Practically after sending new air defense means, Soviet experts took control of Syrian airspace. After the arrival of the Soviet missile regiments, Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Hadam stated: “Now we are protected by the paw of a Soviet bear.” This was a big problem for Israel, because the S-200 system kept Israeli planes at a great distance, especially the E-2 and E-767 planes, which were used for electronic warfare. The operational group was led by Colonel General of Aviation Boris Bochkov, and Lieutenant General Konstantin Babenko. In addition, the USSR delivered new MiG-23MLD fighters to Syria, the latest modernization. The results were not lacking. After the commissioning of three S-200 regiments and the commissioning of the system, all Israeli flights in the Bekaa Valley stopped. However, the fighting on the edges of the territory of Lebanon in the airspace is not. According to General Yashkin, the chief adviser for Syria, in six days of active combat, the missiles managed to shoot down nine American planes, including five A-6s and three F-14s, and one F-4 “Phantom 2”. He adds that four more Israeli and two French deck fighters were shot down. The Syrians and Soviets claimed to have shot down an E-2 surveillance plane at a distance of 190 km. Israel did not confirm this claim, nor did the Americans, but what was obvious was that America and Israel suspended their flights, thus achieving the goal. Soviet positions were strengthened in Syria, and Syrian positions in Lebanon. Israel withdrew its ground army to the southern part of Lebanon, where it remained until 2000. Hafiz al-Assad could rejoice.