After last week’s downing of a Russian Il-20 surveillance plane by Syrian air defense, Moscow has promised to send it’s advanced S-300 air defense system. The Russians blamed Israel for the downed aircraft.
This is troublesome for one reason and extremely concerning for another. It’s troublesome because it likely means Russia will want more direct involvement in Syria’s defense. When weapons it supplied are used to take down its own aircraft, the practical and predictable response is to either downgrade involvement or ramp it up. Russia will likely do the latter.
It’s extremely concerning because of the clear threat made to Israel. “Commensurate measures” can be read in many ways, but based on Russia’s recent history this incident will likely be used as a get-out-of-jail free card for them to use at the right moment against Israel. How that manifests remains to be seen.
While Russians are denying that the system is targeting any nation in particular, they know Israel is the only nation that regularly flies into Syria to attack weapons depots intended for use against the Jewish state.
“According to information of our military experts, the reason (behind the downing) were premeditated actions by Israeli pilots which certainly cannot but harm our relations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
However, the Kremlin said the installation of S-300 was aimed at increasing safety of Russian military and “not directed at any third country”.
Russia is playing with fire in more ways than one. The S-300 system is designed as a multi-stage air defense system capable of changing the game in the Middle East. Israel had demanded they not be installed in Syria after the initial agreement was made by Russia in 2013, but last week’s incident changed things.
What Russia cannot afford is further antagonizing the west. If the result of this leads to more attacks on Israel because they weren’t able to stop them in Syria, it is likely America will step in with countermeasures for Israel to use against the S-300. This will lead to escalations neither country wants.