Russia sends angry message at Israel by offering Syrians upgraded anti-aircraft weaponry

Russia blames Israel for the downing of a military aircraft last week 

Oliver Carroll
Monday 24 September 2018 17:55 BST
Russia releases animation claiming Israel downed jet

Moscow has announced it will supply advanced S-300 surface-to-air and jamming systems to Syria within the next two weeks.

Speaking on Monday, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed the move would “cool hotheads” in the region. But he also made little disguise of his own anger at last week’s downing of a Russian military plane, which was knocked out of the sky with 15 servicemen on board.

Though Moscow now accepts the plane was hit by friendly fire, it blames the “deliberate” behaviour of Israeli F-16 fighter planes, who were conducting bombing missions against the Syrian army.

Last week, it appeared that personal representations by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been enough to rule out major retaliation from the Kremlin. In the aftermath of the incident, Mr Netanyahu expressed sadness at the Russian loss of life. In return, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a “tragic chain” of accidents was to blame. He urged people not to reach “quick conclusions.”

The Israelis sent their top military men to Moscow to discuss improving cooperation. Some well-placed experts even predicted the tragedy could mark the start of a closer military cooperation.

But the high-level representations weren’t, it seems, enough to prevent a move that strikes at the heart of Israeli interests.

Israel has previously opposed the delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Syria – they make their aircraft more vulnerable. The S-300 systems are a step up from the Soviet S-200 machines currently used by regime forces. Faster, more accurate, and more durable, the new weapons have a range of up to 250km.

Up until now, Russia has largely acquiesced to Israeli interests in the area. It has not supplied the hi-tech air-to-surface missiles, and has generally ignored operations against its Syrian allies.

Last week’s incident apparently undid those assumptions.

“The situation has changed,” said Mr Shoigu. “And it’s not our fault.”

On Monday, the Kremlin refused to confirm whether the Israelis had even been consulted about the changes. Damage to Israeli-Russian relations was inevitable following last weeks incident, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggested.

In a separate press conference on Sunday, the Ministry of Defence said that Israeli pilots had “deliberately” confused Russian soldiers, and used the Il-20M Russian reconnaissance plane as cover.

Kremlin admits that Syria shot down Russian military reconnaissance plane

“The Israeli pilot could not fail to have understood that the effective surface area of the Il-20 was much greater than the analogous surface area of the F-16 fighter,” said spokesman Igor Konashenkov. “It was the Russian plane that became the target for the missile.”

The Ministry of Defence glossed over several more obvious faults on the Russian and Syrian side.

It was, after all, a stray Syrian missile that brought the plane down – not an Israeli one, as belatedly acknowledged by Moscow. It is unlikely that would have happened had the Russians provided correct friend-or-foe recognition systems. (This, too, would change, Minister Shoigu promised.)

In the event, however, new weapons may not be enough to signal little more than a psychological change on the battlefield, said security expert Vladimir Frolov.

“Israelis know how to deal with this and they may well take action against it before it is operational,” he told The Independent.

“But the announcement does what it is intended to do: it allows Shoigu to feel good about himself.”

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