Russia is to provide advanced S-300 missile systems to Syria and directly link up with the air-defense network of its Middle Eastern ally, stepping up support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the downing of a reconnaissance plane last week.
Moscow blamed the shoot-down of the aircraft, which killed 15 Russian servicemen, on Israel, whose planes were attacking targets in Syria at the same time.
Israel has long called on Russia not to provide the S-300 system to Syria and in 2013, the Kremlin agreed to put a deal to deliver them on hold.
However, “the situation has changed,” Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu said yesterday in an address carried live on national television.
“We’re confident that these measures will cool ‘hot heads’ and prevent thoughtless moves that threaten our servicemen,” he said.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to take a softer line with Israel than the military, noting that it was Syrian air defenses that shot down the plane.
In a telephone call last week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Putin did not outline any retaliatory measures, agreeing only to prevent such steps in the future, the Kremlin said in a statement at the time.
However, yesterday the Kremlin seemed to take a tougher stance, blaming the downing on “the deliberate actions of Israeli pilots” and saying Israel’s explanations were not convincing, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“This can’t but harm our relations,” he said.
Putin spoke to al-Assad yesterday by phone and informed him of the plan to provide the missiles, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Shoigu said the S-300 would be delivered to Syria within two weeks.
Syrian air-defense command units would be connected directly to Russian command posts with automated systems that at present are deployed only in Russian units, the spokesman said.
“Most importantly, this will guarantee that Russian aircraft are identified by Syrian air defenses,” he said.
Russia would also jam the electronic communications of aircraft attacking targets in Syria, he said.
“This will take Syrian air defenses to a new level,” said Anton Lavrov, an independent defense analyst based near Moscow.
“It won’t make them invulnerable to Israeli attacks, but it will make things more complicated and raise the risk of losses. It could cause a reaction by Israel or the US, including attempts to destroy the system before it’s operational,” he said.
The ministry released detailed computer simulations over the weekend that it said showed that Israeli planes used the Russian reconnaissance aircraft as cover.
Shoigu repeated that allegation yesterday.
Israeli has denied that, saying its planes had already returned to base when Syrian forces fired the missiles that hit the Russian aircraft.
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