Sep 21, 2021
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For the first time, last week Russia announced it helped Syria operate against an Israeli airstrike in Syria. According to some reports, the change in policy comes in the wake of a meeting between Putin and Biden in which the US president expressed displeasure at Israeli strikes against Iranian targets. 

Russian-made air defenses shoot down Israeli airstrike

“Two F-16 fighter jets of the Israeli Air Force made a strike with four guided missiles on facilities in Homs province from the airspace of Lebanon,” Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, the head of the Russian military’s Reconciliation Center in Syria, told Russia’s Tass news agency, referring to airstrikes that were carried out against targets in Homs on both Monday and Thursday nights. The strikes were reported to have killed senior Hezbollah and Iranian fighters.

“In a span from 23:39 to 23:51 on July 19, four F-16 fighter jets of the Israeli Air Force entered Syria’s airspace via the US-controlled al-Tanf zone and fired eight guided missiles at facilities southeast of the city of Aleppo,” said Kulit, according to the TASS report.

“One missile damaged the building of a research center in the settlement of Safira in the Aleppo governorate,” he said. “All four missiles were destroyed by the Syrian duty air defense facilities, with the use of Russian-made Pantsyr-S and Buk-M2 systems of Russian manufacture.”

The combination of Pantsyr-S and Buk-52 is less powerful than the Russian S-300 or S-400 but poses a significant threat to Israel warplanes.

He noted Israel’s air force did not enter Syrian airspace but launched missiles from neighboring lands, at the expense of their effectiveness. According to the report, Russia is now supplying Syrian forces with more advanced anti-missile systems. Russia maintains a significant military presence in Syria to support the regime of President Bashar al-Assad who has been fighting a civil war for ten years. 

Understanding between Putin and Biden

An anonymously sourced report by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat cited a “well-informed” Russian official as saying that the Kremlin has “run out of patience” with Israeli air raids in Syria. The source credited the shift in policy to an understanding between Russia and the US arrived at in the recent meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin.

“Washington does not welcome the continuous Israeli raids,” the Russian source claimed, saying that Moscow now felt free to respond aggressively to Israeli airstrikes. 

Israel and Russia maintain a “deconfliction mechanism” which maintains channels of communication informing Russia of Israeli military activities in the region. This mechanism is generally successful with the notable exception of an incident in 2018 when a Russian-made anti-aircraft system responded to an Israeli airstrike, shooting down a Russian spy plane.

The announcement of the change in Russian policy may also be intended as a message to Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.