The presence of Russian military forces in Syria presents new dangers for Israel, underscored by the Turkish downing of a Russian plane and its acrimonious aftermath.
Israel is intent on letting the world — especially the Russians — know that it will not repeat Turkey’s mistake.
“Israel will not take action against Russian fighter jets that encroach into its air space,” a senior air force official said on Thursday, according to The Jerusalem Post.
“The Russian military is a new, key player which we are not ignoring,” a senior military official told reporters. “There is a clear boundary here, and they are busy with their matters, and we are busy with ours.”
Senior Israeli military officials met with their counterparts in Moscow a few weeks ago to discuss bilateral cooperation aimed at avoiding just such incidents as happened with Turkey.
Meanwhile, another possible complication came into view, as a Russian state-run media outlet said on Thursday that the Russian military has deployed its sophisticated S-400 missile battery and radar array in Syria.
The S-400 is a formidable system, capable of detecting and destroying aircraft within a range of 250 miles. Stationed in Latakia, that gives Russia control of the skies over Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, more than half of Turkey, parts of Iraq and Jordan — and, you guessed it, Israel.
Ben Gurion Airport is 245 miles from Latakia, so presumably within range.
“Do we have something to fear? The answer is: yes and no,” Russia expert Zvi Magen told The Times of Israel.
“If [the S-400] is indeed deployed,” Magen said before Thursday’s announcement, “it will be a game-changer.”
The head of the U.S. Air Force Central Command, Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr., seemed less concerned.
“It does complicate things a little bit, and we’ll put some thought to it, but we still have a job to do here, and we’re going to continue to do that job — to defeat Daesh [the Islamic State],” Brown told Air Force Times on Wednesday.
The IDF refused to comment.
However, if the reports are true — there was some doubt whether deployment is a reality yet — it would mean that Israel will not be able to launch airstrikes in Syria without prior coordination with Russia. In the long run, if the missiles stay, they will be a Sword of Damocles over the IAF’s head — ever present, always ready to knock an unsuspecting Israeli plane out of the sky, The Times of Israel quoted military analyst Tyler Rogoway as saying.