When Russian military chief Sergei Shoigu announced this week Moscow’s decision to send the modern S-300 air defense system to Syria there was a barely contained coldness in his voice.
General Shoigu, Russia’s minister of defense, wasn’t threatening anyone in particular. But it was clear from his stony demeanor that Russia has had enough of foreign bad faith and deadly mischief in Syria, which has led to the loss of Russian lives serving the call of duty.
A loss of lives made all the more poignant because Russian servicemen are in Syria to defend that country from international terrorism.
“He was as serious as a heart attack,” was how American political analyst Randy Martin described Shoigu’s resolute announcement of more powerful air defenses being delivered for Syria.
The deaths of 15 Russian servicemen last week was clearly the responsibility of an Israeli air attack on Syria. Russian military data shows beyond doubt that Israeli fighter jets were involved in chicanery that led to the shooting down of the Ilyushin IL-20 survey plane and the destruction of all lives onboard.
As Shoigu revealed the latest radar signals showing Israeli culpability, what no doubt added to Russia’s sangfroid was the way that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to wriggle out of responsibility. Tel Aviv has blamed Syria, and even Iran, for the shoot-down.
Moreover, the Israelis have insulted Russian intelligence by trying to claim that their fighter jets were not hiding behind the IL-20 — thus putting it in danger — when in fact the objective radar data irrefutably evinces that the stealth maneuver is exactly what the Israelis did do.
Not surprisingly, Russia perceives a gross betrayal of its past deconfliction agreements with Israel. If the Israelis cannot honor the agreements, then Moscow has every right to install the most sophisticated air defense systems in Syria in order to protect its servicemen. No discussion.
The S-300 system is a major upgrade of the current S-200 air defenses that the Soviet Union supplied Syria during the 1980s. The fatal shoot-down last week was partly caused by the S-200 not being able to distinguish between friendly and enemy aircraft. That will no longer be the case when the S-300 is installed in the next two weeks, as its more advanced command and control will be able to identify allied Russian and Syrian planes from others, thereby not repeating the same fatal error as last week.
Furthermore, the S-300 has a much greater targeting distance, reportedly up to 250 kilometers. When the Israeli F-16s were attacking Syria’s northwest coast last week, they were doing so from a distance of some 50kms. From now on, in other words, those aircraft will be well within range to take down.
Israeli media reports, citing Russian sources, say that up to eight S-300 batteries are likely to be delivered by Moscow to Syria, which will give the Arab country virtually total air defense, along with all its borders.
Another major measure that Russia is taking in Syria is to install electronic jamming equipment which can block hostile aircraft and warship communications in the eastern Mediterranean off the Syrian coast. Such a blackout should ensure that foreign warplanes trying to launch future attacks on Syria will not be able to do so from easy striking range. If such attacks are launched they will be from a much greater distance beyond the jamming zone, which in turn makes their missiles more vulnerable to be neutralized in mid-air.
The irritated reaction from the Americans and Israelis to the new Russian air defense systems for Syria was almost laughable. The hawkish national security advisor John Bolton said it was a “big mistake” and represented a “serious escalation” by Russia. Netanyahu also said the S-300s “increased dangers in the region”.
Richly ironic, isn’t it? The US and its Israeli accomplice have been escalating the war in Syria for years by illegally bombing the country and causing countless deaths among civilians. Now that they won’t be able to get away with such criminal aggression, they call that an “escalation”.
One wonders why this violation of international law by the Americans and Israelis was ever tolerated by Russia.
In 2013, Moscow was ready to send the S-300 to its Syrian ally, but at the last minute balked due to Israeli concerns over its national security. Presumably, the Israelis feared that the Russian surface-to-air missiles could end up in the hands of Iran-backed Hezbollah.
But Russia’s tolerance of Israel and indeed US air strikes on Syria has only been abused by these foreign powers.
Certainly, the latest fatal incident of the Russian IL-20 and loss of 15 servicemen is shocking proof of Israeli contempt for agreements with Moscow.
The Russian information shows that the Israelis misinformed their Russian counterparts about the air raid on northwest Syria. The warning time and the misleading location of aircraft and targets made it impossible for the IL-20 and its men to escape death.
Not only that, the reckless maneuvering by the Israelis could have endangered civilian transport planes that also use the area.
Russia, therefore, is just right. Its principled military intervention in Syria to salvage that country from a foreign-backed war of aggression involving terrorist proxies is being obstructed by the same foreign backers of the aggression with their air forces.
Agreements that Russia entered into in order to avoid accidental air disasters over Syria have been trashed and exploited by Israel in such a way that not only violates Syria’s sovereignty but also now has cost Russian lives.
There is no need for further explanation. Russia has the right to protect its people and its Syrian ally from unlawful aggression. Agreements with the US and Israel are evidently not worth the paper they’re written on. From now on, it’s “in S-300s we trust”.
The people who see such a legitimate defensive move as a dangerous escalation are the aggressors and war criminals. Such people don’t understand reason or words. They only understand the action.