Analysis: Where are Russian-Israeli relations heading amid Syria crisis?

Russia’s decision to deliver its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system to Syria risks further escalating tensions with Israel in an increasingly volatile Syria.

By: Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Following the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian fire intended for Israeli planes, Russian-Israeli relations have been subjected to an ongoing rollercoaster ride.

Russia’s decision on Monday that it intends to deliver its advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system to Syria risks further deepening the ongoing Russian-Israeli diplomatic crisis. It also threatens to further destabilize an already volatile situation in Syria.

Moscow’s latest move is a sharp deviation from President Vladimir Putin’s relative conciliatory tone towards Israel last week. In addition, Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu declared that Russia’s military intends to jam satellite navigation systems and communication systems of aircraft attacking targets in Syria. This was clearly a veiled warning to the Israeli Air Force and NATO forces operating in the area.

Is there more than meets the eye?

Washington and Jerusalem have already protested vocally against Moscow’s decision to supply its more advanced anti-aircraft system to Syria. This is not the first time that Russia has declared its decision to deliver more advanced weapon systems to Damascus. In the past, carrots and sticks from Washington and Jerusalem convinced Russia to postpone it deliveries of the S-300 anti-aircraft system to the Syrians. The question is whether Russia will be in an accommodating mood this time.

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When it comes to Russian-Israeli relations, President Putin has long played the role as the good cop. However, the Russian Defense Ministry is fuming after Moscow recently lost a military plane and 15 aviators. In public, it is blaming Israel despite that it was Syrian fire that downed the Russian plane.

While Putin appears committed to continued strong Russian-Israeli bilateral relations, he needs to balance those with pressures and demands from Russia’s military establishment. The downing of the Russian plane also present a unique opportunity for Moscow to justify the delivery of the advanced Russian anti-aircraft system to Syria.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been practising for many years for scenarios involving the advanced Russian anti-aircraft system. Israel likely has the operational experience and technological skills to overcome the new formidable military challenges presented by Russia’s recently declared move.

While the IAF will need to be more cautious in future operations in Syria, it is unlikely that any Russian military system will be able to end Israeli operations against crucial military targets inside Syria completely. However, if Israel will be forced to neutralize Russia’s advanced anti-aircraft system, it could potentially deepen already deteriorating relations between Jerusalem and Moscow.

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It is likely still possible to reverse much of the ongoing Russian-Israeli tensions in Syria. Like Jerusalem, Moscow is interested in stability inside Syria and opposes Iran’s military entrenchment in the wartorn country. Moscow also depends on Israel for advanced drone technologies. Bilateral military cooperation is mutually beneficial for Russia and Israel.

Where the Russian-Israeli relations are heading in the coming future, largely depend on the next moves made by Moscow, Washington, Jerusalem and Tehran.