JERUSALEM -- Theyre on their way. Theyre already there. They wont be there for months. Theyre on board ships soon to dock. They havent been sent. They may never be sent.
In the past few weeks all those descriptions have been used to say what has happened or not to the much-discussed but so far unseen, at least in Syria, S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has sold or deployed to 13 countries around the world.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that while his country had every right to sell arms to the Syrian government, Moscow had not yet delivered the advanced S-300 air defense system to Damascus.
But that has not cooled a war of words over the S-300s that some say could threaten an outright war between Israel and Russia over the sophisticated missile defense system.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to warn that should Russia deliver the system to Syrian President Bashar Assad, the S-300 is likely to draw us into a response, and could send the region deteriorating into war. Some Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz, have made more explicit threats, telling diplomats and reporters that Israel would not hesitate to destroy the S-300 system rather than see it in Syrian hands.
But the exact scope of the weapon, and why Israeli officials consider it a game changer, has remained largely outside of the debate.
The Syrian government calls the system defensive and says it is meant to protect Syria from air attacks. Israeli officials argue that the weapon could easily turn offensive, if Syrias military chooses to launch it against Israeli aircraft that fly within a few hundred miles of the Syrian border.
Most sources on the S-300 system say its designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles within 150 kilometers, about 90 miles. But Israeli defense officials insist the actual range is greater 200 kilometers, or 125 miles. Given Israels small airspace and the trajectory most Israeli planes take when flying in and out of the country through Ben Gurion, Israels international airport near the urban center of Tel Aviv, the longer range would place most aircraft within range.
The system can launch six missiles at once and engage 12 targets simultaneously, at both high and low altitude. Weapons experts in Russia have said that the missile interceptors can outmaneuver many modern jets including the F-15s and F-16s currently being used by the Israeli air force.
The exact details of the S-300 system being sold to Syria have never been made public. Since it first came into service in the mid-1980s, the S-300 has been upgraded dozens of times and now comes with a variety of missiles and launchers.
The S-300 is a very complicated system and we still dont know what elements of this system are being offered to Syria. So a lot of the speculation of details over what it can and cant do is really just speculation, said Yiftah Shapir, head of the Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank in Tel Aviv.
Syria already has the S-200 system, which has a range of up to 60 miles, though with far less sophisticated machinery. Shapir said that what the S-300 adds to Syrias arsenal is an ability to keep unwanted planes out of Syrias airspace as well as Lebanons.