Israel has been testing ways of defeating an advanced air defence system that Russia sent to the Middle East, which could restrict Israel’s ability to strike in Syria and Iran, military and diplomatic sources said on Friday.
The sources also said that a Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system, which was sold to the Greek Cypriot administration 18 years ago and is now located on the Greek island of Crete, was activated during joint air training between Greek and Israeli air forces in April-May this year.
Through activation, Israel’s warplanes could test how the S-300’s lock-on system works, getting data on its powerful tracking radar and how it might be blinded or bluffed.
In the past year, Greece had tested the S-300’s system at the request of the United States-Israel’s chief ally - on at least one occasion, according to one defence source. However, it is not clear whether Israel shared this data with its allies.
"Part of the manoeuvres involved pitting Israeli jets against Greek anti-aircraft systems," one source said.
Two other sources said that the S-300 in Crete was among the systems which was turned on.
The Greek and Israeli forces denied any use of the S-300 system during training sessions carried out in the Eastern Mediterranean in April-May or similar exercises in 2012 and 2010, the sources spoke to Reuters anonymously.
When asked whether the S-300 system was operating during Greek-Israeli military exercises, a senior Greek Defence Ministry official said, "At this moment the S-300 is not in operation," adding that Athens’ general policy did not allow any country to test the system’s abilities.
Israel worries about Russia’s plan to supply S-300’s to Iran because the S-300 - first deployed at the height of the Cold War in 1979 - can engage multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 300km (186 miles) away.
According to Israel, Egypt bought a variant of the S-300 system.
Israelis are also concerned by Moscow’s announcement last month that it will send the S-300 or the kindred system S-400 from its own arsenal in Syria, in response to Turkey’s shooting down a Russian military jet.
Israel is unwilling to run up against the Russians as it has been bombing Syrian targets.
In recent weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met at least twice to decide on coordination’s to prevent accidents.
A Russian military expert with the Royal United Services Institute in London Igor Sutyagin said that Israeli training against the S-300 on Crete would be "precisely what you need" to study the system's radar frequency, pattern and reach.
"If you know all these details then you are perfectly fitted to replicate this same signal, which means you have a chance to imitate, to sort of bluff-echo" the S-300," he said.
"You can brutally jam it," he added.
"You can take the signal and return it, and then you send another ping which imitates the same signal. So instead of one target, the radar operator sees three, five or 10 and he does not know where to fire."