Israeli Satellite Reveals Russian SS-26 Missiles in Syria

An Iskander transporter-erector-launcher. (Aleksey Toritsyn)

YERUSHALAYIM - In a revelation eerily reminiscent of the world-shaking U-2 photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962, an Israeli satellite has produced photos showing the presence of Russian nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in Syria.

According to a report in Defense News picked up in the rest of the Israeli media over the weekend, the Israeli-built Eros B satellite returned images of two Russian Iskander-launching vehicles, capable of deploying 300-mile-range surface-to-surface missiles known as SS-26, in the Hmeymin base in Latakia, Syria.

The high-resolution imagery confirmed prior intelligence reports of such a deployment since March 2016. The pictures were posted Jan. 5 on the website of ImageSat International (iSi), a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the state-owned firm that builds Israel’s spy satellites.

Russia was initially deterred from deploying the SS-26 in Syria due to Israeli concerns that the weaponry could fall into the hands of Hezbollah terrorist units fighting alongside Assad’s forces, according to an article on Ynet. The missiles are reportedly under the direct control of the Russian military on site.

Both the Assad regime and the Iranians have sought the SS-26 for their own arsenals, but Russia has reportedly refused to sell it to them, at Israel’s request.

The missiles are said to be accurate to within fifteen feet and can carry a warhead weighing half a ton. Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv and of course Haifa are all within range of the missiles from their position in Syria. Their deadly effectiveness was demonstrated during the conflict with Georgia in 2008, and has been used more recently in the Syrian fighting.

The Ynet article suggested that Russia put the missiles in western Syria “as a deterrence to the West, especially in light of European nations increasing spending on anti-ballistic missile systems, along with Western nations carrying out war games in Baltic countries bordering Russia.

“The Russians are still worried that the U.S. will try to attack their Syrian ally, specifically because of U.S. President Barack Obama’s repeated claims that the Syrian regime fights using chemical weapons.”

However, as the White House changes occupants in a few days, the rationale for the Russian military involvement in Syria may no longer hold and the promised drawdown may indeed materialize, along with the missiles. At least, there is reason to hope so.