Russia may be trying Israel by mouth in Syria

(ORDO NEWS) — Why did Russia help Syria shoot down Israeli missiles? In Israel, they are at a loss. But the fact remains: according to the Deputy Head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of the Parties in Syria, Rear Admiral Vadim Kulit, 8 out of 9 missiles were shot down. Only weapons and know-how from Russia can give such an effect.

Last week, the opinion was that Russia is fed up with Israel’s ongoing air campaign in Syria and is going to change the rules of the game there – to the detriment of Israel.

Especially these speculations gained momentum after Saturday’s Asharq Al-Awsat report. An Arab newspaper from London quoted an “informed” Russian source that after the June talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin had the impression that “Washington does not welcome the ongoing Israeli strikes.” And if so, Moscow believes it has the right to act more decisively in order to prevent them.

An unnamed source said the Russians are now supplying the Syrian forces with more sophisticated missile defense systems and know-how, making them more effective in countering Israeli strikes.

The report claims that thanks to new Russian policies, Syria was able to prevent Israeli strikes last week.

According to Rear Admiral Vadim Kulit, deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, seven of the eight missiles fired by Israeli aircraft on July 19 were intercepted by Syrian Russian air defense systems.

The next day, Kulit mentioned two other Israeli attacks in the same week, including strikes by Israeli F-16s in the province of Homs. “All four missiles were destroyed by Syrian air defense systems on duty using Russian-made Buk-2ME systems,” Kulit said.

Russia is disappointed that Israel is ignoring the “rules of the game” that Moscow is trying to establish in Syria, and the United States has indirectly pushed the Russians towards more aggressive actions against Israel, Asharq Al-Awsat said.

But the report raises questions, and Russia’s latest statements should be seen as a continuation of long-standing tensions between Jerusalem and Moscow over Syria.

The collapse of the old world

In late 2010 – early 2011, the Arab world was seized by convulsions that destroyed the Middle East we are used to. Since Tunisia, where a young fruit merchant named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest police corruption and abuse, angry demonstrations have erupted throughout the region. In the next few months, the region’s long-standing leaders were ousted.

These protests reached Syria in March 2011, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets, demanding government reforms and respect for civil rights. Somehow, very quickly, peaceful demonstrations grew into a full-scale armed uprising with the participation of foreigners against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

By 2013, Israel realized that the Syrian civil war opened up new opportunities. The weakened Syrian army has given Israel unprecedented leeway in countering Iran’s attempts to gain a foothold and Hezbollah to build up its military power in the region. Subsequent actions of the IDF were called the “interwar campaign” or “Mabam” after its Hebrew abbreviation.

Over time, Israel intensified its attacks. In 2018, Israel announced that Iran had fired 20 missiles from Syria at IDF positions – this was the first accusation against Tehran. Israeli officials said the Israeli Air Force responded with a massive operation, launching airstrikes against the logistics and intelligence facilities of Iranian troops in Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, headquartered in the UK, Israeli strikes killed 113 Iranian soldiers and allied militias in just one month of 2018. The IDF said it struck more than 200 Iranian targets in Syria in the same year.

However, despite the Israeli campaign, Iran continued its efforts to establish a foothold on Israel’s northern border to threaten our Jewish state and planned a series of attacks, the IDF reported.

In January 2015, the Israeli Air Force targeted the alleged leaders of Hezbollah, a Lebanese organization with a contingent in Syria that reportedly planned abductions, rocket attacks and other attacks on military and civilian targets in northern Israel.

In recent years, Iran has also tried to send combat drones to Israel. In August 2019, the military said it had carried out a series of bombing raids to thwart a planned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) operation against Israel with the participation of kamikaze combat drones.

However, every Israeli strike carries the risk of provoking retaliatory attacks or igniting an even bigger fire. From Israel’s point of view, the theater of military operations is becoming more dangerous also because Russia has also tried to take advantage of the chaos in its own interests.

In 2015, Russia deployed troops to Syria to ensure the survival of Assad (the author means several squadrons of aircraft for the Khmeimim base and the Russian military police who fought terrorists for all people on Earth, and not just for Assad – ed.). Israel had to flex its muscles to establish clear red lines that the Russians would understand, and to do so, it turned to an Arab security partner. According to King Abdullah of Jordan, Israeli and Jordanian planes have together confronted Russian warplanes over southern Syria and in January 2016 warned them not to cross the common border of Syria.

To avoid confusion between the parties, Israel and Russia created a so-called conflict resolution mechanism, and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Putin on several occasions to discuss the issue.

Israeli officials usually do not discuss this coordination, but emphasize that the IDF does not seek permission from Russia to conduct operations. At the same time, however, Israel’s freedom of action is severely limited – especially after Russia provided Syria with advanced S-300 air defense batteries following an incident in which a Syrian battery shot down a Russian plane while targeting Israelis. All 15 people on board were killed.

It is clear that Iran is not going to stop sending Iranian troops and militias to Syria. At the same time, Israel has shown strong determination to prevent this and has proven that its intelligence and operational capabilities provide it with clear superiority over Iran in Syria.

Russia also intends to stay – along with advanced air defense systems that threaten Israel’s dominance in the skies over Syria. “Our freedom of action is in the hands of the Russians,” said Ksenia Svetlova, a researcher at the Mitvim Institute. “This is no longer a Syrian-Israeli issue. This is a Syrian-Russian-Israeli question. “

Hidden message

It is no secret that Russia is unhappy with the Israeli strikes against Syria.

In a joint final statement by Russia, Turkey and Iran following the 16th conference in Astana earlier this month, the three parties “condemned the ongoing Israeli military attacks in Syria, which violate international law, international humanitarian law, the sovereignty of Syria and neighboring countries and threaten stability and security in the region ”.

Discussing this issue during his January visit to Jerusalem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “If Israel, as its representatives insist, is forced to respond to threats to its security that emanate from Syrian territory, then we have told our Israeli colleagues many times:“ If if you see such threats, please provide us with the relevant information. “

But this long-standing position of Russia does not yet give guarantees that the rules in Syria are about to change dramatically.

“We cannot rule out the fact that they [Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq al-Awsat] received messages for publication from the Russians,” said Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Russia and a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel- Aviv. “The question is who the source is.”

Without knowing anything about a single anonymous source, there is no reason to accept the promise of a radical change in policy.

According to Svetlova, none of those with whom she spoke in Russia believes that the source of Asharq al-Awsat is indeed from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Defense.

Moreover, the Russian side did not support these widespread ones.

In addition, the Biden administration hinted at Israeli dissatisfaction on other issues, including the violence in Jerusalem and the May conflict in Gaza, but Asharq Al-Awsat did not confirm the reports – neither in word nor in deed. On the contrary, the United States even agreed with Israel to strike Syria in February.

Nevertheless, there is a possibility that Russia is sending some kind of message with its statements of successful interceptions and leaks in the media.

With the Iranian nuclear deal approaching and better relations between Tehran and the West, the Russians can make it clear to the Iranians that they are their most reliable partners in the Middle East and that Russia will support them in the event of Israeli attacks.

“The Iranians of Russia are not friends, but partners,” Svetlova stressed.

“But we, the Israelis, are not partners for them,” added Svetlova.

Reports of successful interception of Israeli missiles may signal something else. Simultaneously with the Israeli strikes on Syria, the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon was held near Moscow.

Since Russia continues to try to sell its weapons as an alternative to America’s – even to US partners like Egypt and Turkey – claims that Russian air defenses have thwarted the Israeli air force in Syria are intended to allay concerns about their effectiveness.

Russia can also play diplomatic chess. Its focus on information warfare is no secret, and sensing the rapprochement between the Biden and Bennett administrations (Naftali Bennett is the new prime minister of Israel, ed.), Moscow may try to upset US-Israeli relations through the media.

While the new Bennett-Lapid government is settling in after 12 years of Netanyahu’s rule, Moscow can test the firmness of the new Israeli leadership – and whether it can be forced to make concessions in Syria.

There is no doubt that Kulit’s statement last week was a departure from the usual briefings and that the emphasis on Israel meant a message. But this message does not necessarily come from Russia’s top leadership. It is possible that there is a group in the Russian military that opposes coordination with Israel, and it was this group that announced itself last week.

Keeping calm

Russia’s position on Israel in Syria is noteworthy, but there is no reason to panic.

Bilateral relations are generally good. However, they are affected by events in the international arena, especially in the Middle East.

“As far as I know, nothing has changed,” said former ambassador to Moscow Magen. “All the talk about interceptions is not new … And nowhere has it been said that Russia is changing its fundamental approach to Israel.”

Moreover, Russia cannot force Israel to stop its military strikes. She tried to clip Israel’s wings in Syria with warnings and diplomacy, but if Israel is determined to act, Russia is powerless to stop it.

“At the same time, looking at the whole picture, I see a chain of hints, from which, quite possibly, a certain message is formed,” Magen said. “If so, we need to take it a little more seriously, because for all the awkwardness, this is a Russian signal to Israel.”

“I recommend Israel not to give up and not blink,” he concluded.

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