In an interview with Arab media, Syrian Foreign Minister Feisal Makdad said that the incident last week, in which a Russian plane had been shot down by a Syrian missile, had “opened the eyes” of the world “to Israeli violence, and to the support of the United States and Western countries to this policy, which is very harmful to Syria.” The “tragic accident,” as he called it, was the result of Israel’s frequent attacks on Syria “for all sorts of reasons and excuses. Now it will have to think twice before it attacks again,” he said.
One of the reasons for that is the promise by Russia to supply Syria with its long sought-after S-300 missile system. When asked if Israel would try alternative methods to attack Syria after the missiles were deployed, Makdad said “let them try. We will defend ourselves exactly as we have done in the past.” With that, he said, the new missiles, which Russia has promised would be in Syria’s hands within a few weeks, “will be used for defensive purposes only.”
The decision to move forward with the S-300 sale to Damascus – which has been under consideration for five years – came in the wake of the incident last week, in which a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 military reconnaissance plane “disappeared” after an attack by four Israeli F-16 planes on Syrian targets in Latakia, where Russia has a military presence. In a rare statement, the IDF said that it had targeted the Syrian base, “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it,” the IDF said in a statement.
The Russian plane was, according to both Israel and Russia, hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire. According to an initial Russian statement, the Israeli planes had “used the Russian airplane as a cover,” endangering the Russian plane and placing it “in the line of fire coming from Syrian air defense systems.” The IDF said in its statement that this was not the case, and that “when the Syrian army launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane, (Israeli) jets were already within Israeli airspace.” Later reports said that the Syrian soldiers who had been involved in firing on the Russian plane were arrested and questioned by Syrian military police. Russian President Vladimir Putin absolved Israel of responsibility for the strike, saying that “it looks most likely in this case that it was a chain of tragic chance events, because an Israeli aircraft did not shoot down our aircraft. But, without any doubt we need to seriously get the bottom of what happened.”
But Russia’s military establishment has not been so quick to excuse Israel. In a statement, the Defense Ministry linked the decision to provide Syria with the systems to the plane incident. “In 2013 we suspended the delivery of S-300 systems that were ready for the dispatch, while the Syrian military had undergone training. Now the situation has changed, and we are not to blame,” the statement said. The Russian Defense Ministry also said that it would deploy methods to prevent satellites from detecting activities on the shores of Syria.
“The command posts of Syrian air defense forces and units will be equipped with automated control systems only supplied to the Russian armed forces. This will facilitate centralized control over all forces and resources of the Syrian air defense, monitor the situation in the air, and ensure operative issuance of orders. Most importantly, we will guarantee the identification of all Russian aircrafts by the Syrian air defense systems,” the statement added.