Russian air defenses were beaten badly by Israeli forces in Syria on video - here are its excuses

misile pantsir s1 syria israelScreenshot/IDF

  • Moscow offered two explanations on Monday as to why Russian-made Pantsir S-1 missile defense system took a direct hit during an Israeli airstrike last week.
  • "One is that it had already used up its ammunition reserve," Aytech Bizhev, the former deputy commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force, said, according to RT. "The other is that it was simply turned off; it wasn't battle ready."
  • Whatever the reason, the incident wasn't good advertizing for the Russian system.

Moscow offered two explanations on Monday as to why its Russian-made Pantsir S-1 missile defense system embarrassingly took a direct hit during an Israeli airstrike last week.

"One is that it had already used up its ammunition reserve," Aytech Bizhev, the former deputy commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force, said, according to RT. "The other is that it was simply turned off; it wasn't battle ready."

Israeli fighter jets struck dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria last Thursday, killing at least 23 people, including 5 Syrian soldiers.

Israel said it launched the attack after Iranian forces fired 20 rockets towards the Golan Heights on Wednesday, some of which were shot down.

But the day before that attack, Israel had also struck near the Syrian capital of Damascus, shortly after they determined "abnormal movements of Iranian forces" in Syria, and President Donald Trump announced the US would pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Pantsir and S 400 in SyriaA Pantsir-S1 (foreground) and an S-400 (background) at a Russian Military base in Syria, December, 16, 2015.Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

As for the destruction of the Pantsir S-1, there "can be no third option as it wouldn't have let itself to be destroyed," Bizhev said. "When it's battle-ready it performs constant surveillance of enemy aircraft and has a very fast reaction time. It would've brought down those cruise missiles with either its cannons or own missiles."

A retired Russian colonel, Mikhail Khodorenok, also said that the Pantsir S-1 wasn't camouflaged, which means that it "wasn't ready for engagement," adding that the incident doesn't "question the [system's] high combat capabilities," RT reported.

Nevertheless, there are other possible reasons as to how the Pantsir S-1 took a direct hit.

It could be that its radar was turned off in order to avoid anti-radiation missiles (it was likely hit by a Delilah anti-radar cruise missile), or it could be that the Syrian regime operators simply bungled.

Bizhev said that the Israeli jets had a geographic advantage in that they fired their missiles "without entering the [Syrian] air defense area," approaching "at low altitudes [and] then bounced from behind the Golan Heights, carried out the attack and left," RT reported.

The Pantsir S-1 "requires between three to five minutes to go operational," Bizhev also said, adding that it's exhausting for the crew to keep the system on at all times.

Pantsir S1 SA-22 Greyhound missile defense system RussiaA Russian Pantsir-S1 missile and artillery system fires during a demonstration at the international military-technical forum Army-2016 in the Moscow region of Russia, September 6, 2016.REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

But questions remain.

For example, why was the system turned off and not strategically placed or camouflaged given that there had been back-and-forth strikes in the previous two days?

Also, did the Pantsir S-1 run out of ammunition before the strike or during it? The latter doesn't seem to jive with Russia's excuses, given that it wasn't camouflaged and turned off. The former also appears strange considering that the operators would want a loaded system since Israel and Iranian forces had been trading strikes.

Whatever the reason as to how the Pantsir S-1 took a direct hit, it wasn't good advertizing for the Russian system at a time when Moscow heavily depends on foreign military sales to boost its flagging economy.
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