Russian plane downing in Syria will harm relations with Israel

Frederick Owens
September 24, 2018

Moscow says Israeli F-16 planes which struck Latakia in western Syria on September 17 later used the landing Russian Il-20 surveillance plane as a "cover", which resulted in the Il-20 being struck by a Syrian air defense missile. Fifteen Russian crew members were killed in the incident, for which Israel denies responsibility.

Within two weeks, the Syrian army will get from Russia S-300 air-defense missiles to strengthen its combat capabilities following the downing of a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 aircraft in Syria, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday. Syrian air-defense command units will be connected directly to Russian command posts with automated systems that at present are deployed only in Russian units, he said.

Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad discussed the additional measures and delivery of the S-300 system on the phone on Monday, the Kremlin said. Russian Federation will also jam the electronic communications of aircraft attacking targets in Syria, he said.

A computer simulation released by the Russian Defense Ministry, Sunday, September 23, 2018, purports to show Israeli jets near a Russian reconnaissance plane, in red, off Syria's coast before it was accidentally shot down by Syria forces responding to the Israeli air strike. Mr Putin then sought to defuse tensions, mentioning "a chain of tragic accidental circumstances".

"The Israel air force did not hide behind any aircraft and the Israeli planes were in Israeli airspace when the Syrian [missiles] hit the Russian plane", the military claimed in a statement.

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Commenting on the development later in the day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that the Russian leadership made the decision to protect Russian aircraft in Syria from further friendly fire incidents and "is not directed against third nations".

According to Haaretz, Israel fears that Russian Federation can influence its military activity through demanding greater warning time, deciding to close the airspace or requiring more advanced air defense systems be put in place as a signal to Israel, among other things.

The delivery of the missile system had been suspended in 2013 following an Israeli request, according to a statement by the Russian ministry of defence.

Russian Federation had originally agreed to sell the system to Syria in 2010, but scrapped the plan at Israel's behest. More broadly, Israel also sees Russian Federation as key to protecting its interests in Syria by preventing a build up of Iranian-linked bases and infrastructure.

"For Israel, it may have to balance more carefully the desire to limit the production of advanced missiles and prevent their transfer, with essentially direct confrontation with Syria", said Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst with International Crisis Group.

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