Smarting under the fatal shooting of a Russian military surveillance plane off Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a more sophisticated version of air defence systems to Syria within two weeks. The upgrade to S-300
systems comes a week after Russia blamed Israel for the downing of an Il-20 aircraft that was shot down by the Syrian forces using S-200 systems supplied by Russia earlier. 15 Russian security personnel died in the strike.
In a strongly worded video statement, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu also said Syria will get centralised, automated control systems that only Russia has in operation and it will jam satellite navigation, airborne radars and communication systems of combat aircraft attacking Syrian territory.
This, the General added, will be carried out from areas near Syria in the Mediterranean Sea. Russia has a considerable naval force there and at a base in Latakia. The measures were ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had spoken on the phone on September 18 amid escalating tension. Putin had rebuked the Israeli Prime Minister with the President’s office saying, “Vladimir Putin noted that operations of this nature by the Israeli Air Force are in violation of Syria’s sovereignty. In this particular case, Russian-Israeli agreements on preventing dangerous incidents had not been observed either, and that resulted in the Russian aircraft coming under Syrian air defence fire.”
Today’s statement from the Russian Defence Minister had a warning: “We are convinced implementation of these measures would cool the “hot heads” and keep them from rash actions that threaten our soldiers. Otherwise we will have to react in accordance with the prevailing situation”.
In 2013, Russia had held back the delivery of S-300 systems to Syria at the request of Israel. “Today the situation has changed. And it’s not our fault,” said the minister.
He also accused Israel of giving Russia only a minute’s warning of the strikes and said they were operating in a region not intimated and hence the Russian aircraft could not get out of harm’s way on time. He added, “The Israeli crews, well aware of the air situation, used the cover (big airframe of the Il-20 to shield themselves from Syrian air defence fire) of the Russian aircraft, which led to shooting down of the plane and death of 15 of our troops. This has compelled us to adopt an adequate response aimed at improving the security of Russian military personnel who are carrying out tasks to combat international terrorism in Syria. In accordance with the instructions of the President of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Defence will take these measures to increase the combat capabilities of the Syrian air defence system.”
On September 18, Israel’s Defence Forces responded by issuing a rare statement saying, “An initial inquiry of the incident suggests: 1. Extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft (Surface to Air missile) fire caused the Russian plane to be hit and downed. 2. When the Syrian Army launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane, IAF jets were already within Israeli airspace. 3. During the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was then hit was not within the area of the operation. 4. The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air”.
The statement blamed “the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident.”
Russia intervened in Syria on the invitation of President Bashar al-Assad in 2015. Since then, it usually turns a blind eye to Israeli attacks. Israeli officials have in the recent past said its forces have carried out over 200 such strikes, often targeting Iran or Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has been a U.S. designated terrorist group since 1997. Both Iran and Hezbollah are close allies of the Syrian government.