The crisis in Russian-Israeli relations, which came after a Russian military plane was shot down in September, lacks an exit strategy, and this significantly increases tensions in the Syrian arena.
Russia seeks to influence Israel so that it will curtail its air strikes on Syria, which, according to its fears, will lead to a weakening of the Assad regime. For three years now Moscow has been conducting an air campaign in support of the brutal regime of Alavit Assad in Damascus and the Shiite allies of the regime under the leadership of Iran.
Russia was able to project its power into the heart of the Middle East, having achieved a naval port, an air base and a center of influence, while challenging America’s role in the region.
But the ongoing Israeli-Iranian conflict on Syrian soil is in a position to put these gains at risk as a result of the Syrian regime being drawn into this conflict. This means that the interests of Russia and Israel have come into conflict.
Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear that, despite Russia’s new stance against the Israeli campaign “interwar war”, Israel will not allow Iran to create bases on the Syrian land for attack.
US destroyer “defied Russia’s claims to the sea” near Vladivostok – the US Navy begins provocations near Russia’s sea borders.
A series of signals broadcast in recent weeks indicate that Jerusalem and Moscow were unable to defuse this crisis after Russia blamed Israel for the September 17 incident, which resulted in a Russian plane being shot down and Russian servicemen killed.
After losing its reconnaissance aircraft, Russia rejected a number of Israeli attempts to patch up relations, including sending a high-ranking Israeli military delegation headed by Major General Amikam Norkin to Moscow on September 20, whose task was to inform the leadership of the Russian Air Force about what had happened.
Israel expressed grief over the death of 15 members of the Russian crew and explained that the Israeli Air Force military planes struck the Iranian components of the production of high-precision missiles.
Iranian weapons were in the warehouse of the Syrian armed forces in Latakia, at a distance of 25 km from the Russian Hmeimim airbase and intended for Hezbollah in Lebanon. This contained signs that the Iranians were betting on using Russia as a cover for arms proliferation. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) hoped that Israel would not strike at this sensitive zone. As it turned out, this assumption was wrong.
Then, according to Israel, the Syrian air defenses fired a volley of unwanted fire, hitting the Russian plane when Israeli planes were approaching their bases for landing. However, these explanations by Russia were rejected.
On October 8, there were reports in the media stating that Netanyahu was forced to cancel a scheduled meeting with Putin in Paris. And anyway, they managed to meet on the margins of the event dedicated to the First World War, making an attempt to resolve this crisis.
Other media reports claimed that in recent weeks, former defense minister Lieberman was unable to restore channels of communication with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, who after the incident with the plane made militant statements against Israel. Until the same, Lieberman and Shoigu maintained quite a good dialogue.
Russia transferred its new policy in Syria into action, transferring four S-300 batteries to the Assad regime. It is believed that Syrian air defense crews are trained in the use of these systems, which are able to detect and track air traffic — including civil traffic — deep inside Israel.
In recent weeks, Moscow has raised the level of criticism of Israel in connection with its attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on November 5 that these attacks would not improve the security situation in Israel, and criticized what he described as inappropriate efforts by Israel to coordinate with the Russian armed forces.
These steps indicate a new Russian policy to put pressure on Jerusalem to reduce the number of its air strikes.
Nevertheless, the international media publish reports of continued Israeli strikes on Iran’s threatening Iranian targets in Syria. This means that the Russian campaign at the moment has not reached its goals.It also remains unclear whether Russia wants or can exert effective pressure on Iran so that it reduces its activities on the construction of military infrastructure in Syria, which can later be used to launch attacks on Israel. As long as Iran does not stop its attempts to build a military machine in Syria, Israel will not respond to attempts to reduce its campaign for preventive strikes.
Therefore, the Syrian arena looks disturbing. It can be assumed that the Israeli Air Force is able to overcome the C-300 system, including through the use of new Israeli F-35 aircraft. These aircraft were specifically designed to penetrate the barrier of modern Russian air defense systems and “deal with them.”
However, the apparent lack of communication between the leadership of Israel and Russia means that an important part of the mechanism of bilateral coordination has been destroyed in order to prevent unwanted incidents in the skies of Syria.
The mechanism of conflict prevention and elimination, which was created by Israel and Russia at the beginning of the Russian military-air operation in 2015, was effective until it was destroyed. It spread from the highest echelons of power to Air Force units. Today this collaboration is less effective. It seems that the current diplomatic crisis has a negative effect on the coordination of the actions of the two countries’ air forces.
In the past, the Russian air defense systems in Syria – S-300 and S-400 – were there to protect and defend Russian bases. Now Moscow is actively supplying these systems to the Assad regime with the explicit goal of allowing Damascus to threaten Israeli aircraft.
Therefore, it is only a matter of time when the Syrians will try to use the S-300 to open fire on Israeli military aircraft. In this scenario, the Israeli Air Force may be required to destroy the source of fire in order to protect itself.
What will be the final outcome of this incident remains unknown. In addition, the Assad regime, which is closely linked to Iran, would have made a fundamental mistake if it used its S-300 systems to threaten Israeli civil air traffic. And although it is unlikely that Assad, who is now busy strengthening his victory, would try to unleash a new war with Israel, an unintentional chain reaction may drag him into this war.
By creating bases 170 kilometers from our border, Americans leave us no choice.
At the operational level, it is quite possible to assume that the Israeli Air Force learned how to go unnoticed by foreign forces in the region, including the Russian forces and their radar systems. This is an essential component to preserve the element of surprise.
In addition, Israel will continue to implement its policy of defining red lines for Iran, that is, Israel will act when Iran delivers advanced weapons systems to Syria or uses Syria as a smuggling route for supplying weapons to Hezbollah.
The only event that seems to be able to defuse the Israeli-Russian crisis is the withdrawal of Iranians from Syria. But Iran has demonstrated that it is committed to its goal – to become a regional hegemon, despite the mounting pressure inside the country and from the Trump administration. The immediate future will show how Israel, Russia and Iran will act in a dangerous situation and how the United States will support its ally, Israel, at a time when Jerusalem will set its course on constantly emerging new challenges in Syria.