The video released by Syrian opposition forces which allegedly documents the tracking and interception of an army helicopter shows that rebels have managed to get their hands on Russian-made SA-8, or OSA, air defense system, and now pose a direct threat on the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian airspaces.
However, the system is relatively outdated, and the Syrian army holds a far more dangerous development of the same system, the SA-17, which it purchased from Russia with Iranian funds.
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The Syrian army has several SA-17 regiments, but some systems are probably meant for Hezbollah .
From the video
The SA-8 and SA-17 are especially dangerous, as they are both mobile (and at least partly amphibious) and autonomous – the vehicle mounted with the system can independently track and intercept aircraft.
As vehicles mounted with the SA-8 can move rapidly from place to place and hide easily in urban areas and in Syria and Lebanon's many caves, finding them can be most difficult.
For these reasons Israel views transfers of the SA-8 system to Hezbollah as a game changer, which must be thwarted even at the risk of conflict with Syria.
The threat posed to Israel by these mobile and stealthy systems may become even more crucial should the IDF decide to act against Hezbollah and Syria's rocket and missile arrays aimed at Israeli cities and military bases.
The Syrian Orbit TV channel, affiliated with the Syrian opposition, aired on Tuesday a detailed report on the issue, claiming that the Al-Islam Brigade, one of the armed rebel groups operating on the outskirts of the capital, put their hands on an SA-8 system, mounted on a vehicle, termed "the greatest spoils of the campaign," after taking over a 264 Unit base in December 2012.
According to the report, in recent months the group has upgraded the system, finally succeeding in downing a Syrian helicopter.
Army officers interviewed in the report noted the use of the system is a "qualitative turning point" in the Syrian war power balance.
Ron Ben-Yishai contributed to this report
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