Defense

Russia Promises To Bolster Assad’s Air Defenses Over Israeli Objections

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

Russia will upgrade Syria’s air defense with advanced anti-aircraft missile batteries and radar jamming capabilities after the accidental shoot-down of a Russian reconnaissance plane off the Mediterranean coast, Russia’s top defense official said Monday.

On the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin, S-300 missile systems will be sent to Syria, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. Russian military forces based in Syria will also begin using electronic countermeasures to jam the radar of foreign aircraft operating near the Syrian coast, he said.

The move comes a week after Syrian forces used a Russian-made S-200 battery to shoot down a Russian Il-20 military reconnaissance aircraft, mistaking it for an Israeli warplane. Moscow blamed the friendly fire incident on Israel, which had been conducting airstrikes in the area at the time. (RELATED: Syria Shot A Down Russian Plane And The Kremlin Is Blaming Israel)

“This has pushed us to adopt adequate response measures directed at boosting the security of Russian troops,” Shoigu said in a televised address, according to Agence France-Presse.

“In regions near Syria over the Mediterranean Sea, there will be radio-electronic suppression of satellite navigation, on-board radar systems and communication systems of military aviation attacking objects on Syrian territory,” he added.

Russia had previously considered supplying Syria with the sophisticated S-300 systems, but backed off after objections from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has cultivated close ties with Putin. “[T]ransferring advanced weapons to irresponsible hands will increase the dangers in the region,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that appeared to refer to the pending S-300 delivery.

Israel will “continue to defend its security and interests,” the statement added.

The downing of the Russian plane on Sept. 17 opened a wide rift between Moscow and Jerusalem, which are backing opposing interests in the Syrian civil war. Russian defense officials reiterated Monday their assertion that Israel was to blame, citing flight data that purportedly showed an Israeli F-16 using the Il-20 as “cover” during airstrikes. The tactic caused the Syrian missile to lock onto the larger Russian plane, they said.

Israel has conceded that its jets were carrying out airstrikes on a Syrian facility thought to be facilitating arms transfers to Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, the Israeli military denied allegations that its warplanes had used the Russian aircraft as cover, claiming Sunday its jets were in Israeli airspace at the time the Russian plane was shot down.

The Trump administration, which is supporting Israel’s anti-Iran efforts in Syria, warned that giving Syrian forces better air defenses would make an already tense situation even worse.

“We think introducing the S-300s to the Syrian government would be a significant escalation by the Russians and something that we hope, if these press reports are accurate, they would reconsider,” U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said, according to The Associated Press.

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