Russia bolsters Syrian air defenses amid tensions with Israel

Days after Russia blamed Israel for downing of plane over Syria, Russia vows to upgrade Syrian air defense network.

David Rosenberg ,

Russian S-300 missile system
Russian S-300 missile system

Russia vowed Monday to upgrade Syria’s anti-air defense network, following the downing of a Russian military aircraft in Syrian airspace last week.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced plans to arm the Syrian military with advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles – replacing its defense network of older S-200 missiles. The Russian military will also work to actively jam the radar systems of approaching warplanes near the Syrian border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin informed Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of the plan during a phone call between the two leaders Monday, claiming that the move was needed to protect Russian soldiers deployed in Syria.

Netanyahu protested the decision, saying the transfer of the missiles to “irresponsible hands” was “dangerous”.

“The Prime Minister said that the transfer of advanced weapons systems to irresponsible hands would make the region more dangerous, and that Israel would continue to defend its interests and security,” the Prime Minister’s Office said Monday evening.

In recent years, Russia has refused to sell the advanced surface-to-air missile system to Syria.

Sergey Shoygu, Russia’s defense minister, linked the decision to reverse Russia’s policy to the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane over Syria last week, saying the shoot-down had “pushed us to adopt adequate response measures directed at boosting the security of Russian troops.”

Shoygu said the missiles would be transferred to Syria in two weeks.

Last Tuesday morning, an IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft was reported missing over Syria, following an Israeli airstrike on a military research facility in northern Syria.

The plane, which was carrying 15 crew members, was later declared lost, after apparently being downed by a Syria surface-to-air missile.

Russian officials blamed Israel for the downing of the IL-20, saying the IDF had provided just one-minute advance notice of the impending airstrike to Russian Defense Ministry officials, adding that the Israeli fighter jets had used the IL-20 to draw the Syrian air defense network’s fire.

Israel denied the claims, saying its jets were already out of the combat zone and in Israeli airspace when the IL-20 was downed, and that the IL-20 had been far from the area of the airstrikes during the Israeli operation.

An IDF delegation was dispatched to Moscow last week to share information collected by Israel as part of its investigation into the incident.