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Russia Fires on Israeli Jets in Syria for the First Time

May 17, 2022

by: Ilse Strauss

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Israeli jet (illustrative)

Tuesday, 17 May 2022 | In a concerning first, Russia purportedly fired its advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile battery at Israeli Air Force (IAF) jets during an alleged Israeli strike on Iranian-linked targets in Syria last week, Channel 13 news reported.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on Friday evening, the IAF apparently struck multiple targets—including a weapons depot and other “Iranian sites,” the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said—near the city of Masyaf in northwestern Syria, an area known as a hotbed for Iranian forces and militias operating on Tehran’s say-so.

According to Syrian media, six people were killed in the strike, all crew members of a Pantsir air defense system who tried to shoot down the Israeli warplanes. Satellite images of the bombed site—an apparent underground facility with an entrance and subterranean tunnels—show the structure entirely destroyed.

None of this constitutes controversial news, though. This is, after all, the second alleged Israeli strike in Syria in three days. And although Israel rarely owns up to such allegations, the powers-that-be in Jerusalem have admitted on numerous occasions that the Jewish state often operates in Syrian airspace to prevent Iran from entrenching its fighting forces on Israel’s doorstep and to stop game-changing weapons from being transferred from Iran via the war-torn country to the Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah. In fact, if the allegations are true, Israel has even targeted the Masyaf area on a number of occasions in the past, most recently last month.

What sets Friday night’s strike apart is that for the first time, Russia—the controller of the Syrian skies—did not turn a blind eye to the Israeli planes dropping bombs on Iranian targets on its watch. For the first time, Moscow apparently had Jerusalem’s fighter jets in its crosshairs.

According to Channel 12 news, the state-of-the-art S-300 battery fired a number of missiles into the air, but the radar didn’t lock onto the Israeli planes and thus didn’t constitute a threat. The misfire doesn’t constitute an operation failure on Moscow’s part, though. In fact, bringing down the warplanes was probably never Russia’s objective.

Moscow locking horns with Jerusalem in the skies of Syria is meant to communicate a message from the Kremlin that Russia is irked with Israel. The reason? Ukraine.

Israel has made a dedicated effort to steer clear of the conflict—and for good reason. Jerusalem is one of the only countries that maintains close relations with both Kyiv and Moscow. Israel is home to significant populations of both Ukrainian as well as Russian Jews who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel). Moreover, there are also significant Jewish populations living in Ukraine and Russia for which Israel, as the Jewish state, feels responsible.

Yet perhaps the main motivator behind Jerusalem toeing the diplomatic tightrope between Kyiv and Moscow is that Israel wants to maintain the freedom to act in Syria against archenemy Iran and its terror proxies. And the decision whether Israel retains or forfeits that freedom lies with Russia.

Recent weeks have, however, seen a deterioration of ties between the Kremlin and the Knesset (Parliament). In March, Israel joined 140 other UN General Assembly member states to adopt a resolution slamming the Russian invasion of Ukraine and demanding that Moscow withdraws its military forces from its sovereign neighbor’s soil immediately.

Moreover, last month Jerusalem said it would supply the civil emergency services in Ukraine with helmets and flak jackets, after months of refusing to assist Kyiv with weapons or defensive equipment. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has also spoken out against Russian action in Ukraine on a number of occasions, notably explicitly accusing Moscow of war crimes.

Perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back came two weeks ago when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov aimed to justify Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, a country led by a democratically elected Jewish president, as a valiant attempt to denazify its sovereign neighbor by claiming “that Hitler…had Jewish blood. Some of the worst anti-Semites are Jews.”

Lavrov’s statement was met by a firestorm of condemnation from Israel alongside whispers that Russia crossed the line, inflicting irreparable damage to its relations with Israel.

Lavrov promptly hit back, charging Israel with supporting “the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv.”

The first sign that the relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow is not what it was came last week when Russia reportedly turned a blind eye to Syrian and Iranian transfers of Russian-made weapons into Hezbollah’s eager hands.

And then came Friday night’s Russian S-300s trained on Israeli jets for the first time.

Could this be a dramatic new precedent, signaling a new era where Moscow will no longer allow Jerusalem to act against Iran in Syria, thus giving the mullahs free reign in Israel’s backyard? Does Friday night point to a significant shift in Moscow’s attitude toward Israel?

Perhaps we’ll have to wait until the next time IAF warplanes head to Syria to find out.

Posted on May 17, 2022

Source: (Bridges for Peace, May 17, 2022)

Photo Credit: Israel Defense Forces/flickr.com

Photo License: flickr.com

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