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Recent Syria strikes hint at Israeli use of surface-to-surface missiles

7th February 2020 - 09:00 GMT | by Arie Egozi in Tel Aviv

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Syrian state media announced that air defence systems were activated on 5 February in an attempt to intercept Israeli missiles over Damascus. The attack was reportedly launched from over the Golan Heights and also through Lebanese airspace.

According to some reports on recent Israeli attacks against Iranian and pro-Iranian targets in Syria, no aircraft were seen or heard in the target area. This indicates that Israel may be firing long-range and highly accurate surface-to-surface missiles at targets across its borders, in a tactical shift away from using its powerful air force.

Special units in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Artillery Corps operate very advanced surface-to-surface missiles. If these were used in the recent operations, it indicates a significant change in how the IDF applies its firepower outside Israel’s borders.

Although the Israeli Air Force (IAF) still enjoys widespread freedom of action in Syrian airspace, in a combat situation there may be circumstances that limit or preclude the use of air power. With this in mind, some years ago senior IDF commanders began development of a new specialist unit to operate surface-to-surface missiles.

The missile unit was officially established in January 2018, to operate surface-to-surface missiles with a range of up to 300km. Avigdor Lieberman, then the Defence Minister, approved initial funding of $500 million for the project. Sources said that investment in the new unit over the next ten years will reach $2bn.

Until a few years ago, the only precise ground-launched missile available to the IDF was an upgraded, trajectory-corrected MLRS with a range of 45km.

The IAF was opposed to the use of surface-to-surface missiles for fear that its procurement budget would be cut. However, its objections faded away amid the changing military-strategic reality in the region.

Israel Military Industries (IMI – part of Elbit Systems since 2019), developed a very accurate, low-cost solution based on its Extra extended-range artillery rocket (pictured), which it developed with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).  Extra is designed to replace air-to-surface missile strikes at about 150km range.

IAI also developed the Long Range Attack (LORA) solution, based on a long-range tactical surface-to-surface missile made by the IAI MALAM division. LORA is designed to strike targets up to 400km away with a CEP of 10m or less, according to IAI.

LORA was test-launched at sea from a commercial cargo ship in 2017.

Sources indicate that since their introduction into service – and based on operational experience to date - the missiles are being upgraded continuously. Additional types of Israel-developed surface-to-surface missiles are believed to exist, but they remain classified.

Elbit Systems chose not to comment on Extra, and IAI was unable to divulge details of existing and potential customers. However, a company spokesperson told Shephard that IAI offers a variety of defensive and offensive systems, which are being developed “using the top technologies that answer operational demands”.

Arie Egozi

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Arie Egozi


Born in Israel, Arie Egozi served in the IDF and holds a political science and …

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