A tactical incident turned strategic crisis 

Source: A tactical incident turned strategic crisis – Israel Hayom

Yoav Limor

A week after Syrian air defenses accidentally downed ‎a Russian reconnaissance plane over Latakia, this ‎tactical incident has evolved into a serious ‎strategic problem. ‎

Russia’s insistence that Israel was to blame for the ‎incident and the harsh messages coming out of the ‎Kremlin leave little doubt, even among the most ‎optimistic pundits, that reality in Syria is about ‎to change. ‎

Russian interests in deciding to give Syria advanced ‎S-300 missile defense systems are complex. They are ‎driven by the need to appease public opinion over ‎the deaths of 15 servicemen in the incident, as well ‎as by Moscow’s aspirations to cement its regional ‎and global hegemony.‎

This move should also clarify to anyone who assumed ‎that Russia, which stepped into the Syrian civil war ‎in 2015 to help its ally, President Bashar Assad, was ‎somehow “on Israel’s side” that this was no more ‎that wishful thinking.‎

Russia is not on Israel’s side. It never was. Russia ‎is on Russia’s side, and if a choice has to be made, it will ‎first and foremost side with its ally Syria, the rehabilitation of which would benefit the Kremlin’s ‎regional interests in the future. ‎

Russia’s exploitation of the incident to serve its interests becomes even ‎clearer given that the facts of the case are ‎indisputable. ‎

The Israeli Air Force conducted a professional and ‎thorough investigation into the circumstances that ‎led to the Russian plane’s downing and the ‎conclusive findings were presented by IAF ‎Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin in full to top ‎Russian defense officials, who initially seemed to ‎have accepted them.‎

The alleged “new” details presented later by the ‎Russian Defense Ministry – and Moscow’s blatant ‎disregard of Syria’s responsibility for ‎the incident – were merely meant to justify the ‎Kremlin’s next moves. ‎

It remains to be seen whether Russia will execute ‎its plans, which also include restricting Syria’s ‎air and maritime space, and to what extent, but ‎these moves and their aggressive undertone should worry Israel. ‎

Russia was never a fan of the IAF’s operations in ‎Syria, but it was willing to look the other way ‎until now. Given recent developments, Moscow is ‎determined to show who really controls the ‎situation, even if that means directly compromising ‎Israel’s security.‎

The potential danger of delivering S-300 systems ‎to Syria is a familiar one. Still, it will take a ‎long time for Syrian forces to master the systems and, ‎according to foreign media reports, the IAF has been ‎training overseas on how to counter them, so ‎while they may partially tie Israel’s hands, they ‎will not come as a surprise to Israeli pilots.‎

The bigger concern should be the implied Russian ‎intention to use frequency jamming technology to ‎obstruct incoming offensives. ‎

The IAF relies on advanced technologies and GPS-‎based weapon guidance systems to strike targets in Syria, ‎and it is unclear how these systems will weather ‎such jamming. This threat must be taken seriously ‎not only because it may place Israel and Russia on a ‎direct collision course, but because it could ‎potentially place the lives of Israeli pilots at ‎risk and undermine Israeli operations against ‎serious threats in Syria.‎

Russia’s statements have prompted the United States ‎to weigh in on the matter as well, albeit a week ‎too late.

But it is doubtful that U.S. National ‎Security Adviser John Bolton’s warning that delivering ‎S-300 defense systems to Syria will significantly ‎escalate regional tensions will change Russian ‎policy. ‎

Bolton’s statement did, however, make it clear that ‎Israel is not alone in this fight, as he stressed ‎that American troops will not leave Syria as long as ‎Iran operates in the war-torn country.‎

Still, this situation remains mostly Israel’s problem. While it is unclear how the incident will affect the IAF’s operations in ‎Syria, it is safe to assume that the coming weeks will ‎see fewer – and more anxious – Israeli strikes. ‎

The Israeli government will undoubtedly spare ‎no effort to repair relations with Moscow, but there ‎is no telling how long that will take.‎

The downing of the Russian reconnaissance plane will ‎continue to cloud Israel’s operations in the ‎northern sector for the foreseeable future. There is ‎no doubt that Iran will now try to stir up more ‎trouble between Israel and Russia, and countering ‎that will require tightening of the coordination ‎between the Russian and Israeli leaders and ‎militaries.

This will also require a great deal of ‎luck so that Israel will not find itself in ‎Russia’s crosshairs again. ‎

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