Tuesday 18 September, 2018 Update: Russia, and Israel Address the Shootdown of a Russian Plane Off Syria

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The leaders of Russia and Israel have moved to defuse tensions after a Russian aircraft was shot down by Syrian air defenses in the middle of an Israeli airstrike on a target inside of Syria’s Latakia region on Monday evening. Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the telephone. Netanyahu expressed sorrow for the deaths of 15 Russian airmen, although he placed the blame for the incident squarely on Syria’s shoulders. Putin blamed it on a ‘chain of tragic accidental circumstances.’ The descriptions put forward by both men are quite correct, and highlight the deconfliction issues, and crowded skies in and around Syrian airspace. Putin urged the Israeli leader not to allow another incident like this to happen again in the future, and reminded him that Israeli air operations have frequently violated Syria’s sovereignty.

To put it simply, what happened Monday night was a friendly fire incident. A flight of four Israeli F-16s was moving to strike a site  being used by Iran to transfer weapons to Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon. Israel informed Russia of the impending attack roughly one minute before it started. This was not enough time for Russia to clear the airspace. An Il-20 Coot, a Russian ELINT/SIGINT aircraft which is comparable to the US EP-3 ARIES II, was engaged and destroyed by a Syrian SA-5 surface-to-air missile site, which mistook it for an Israeli intruder. Russian defense officials claim that the Israelis used the Coot to mask their movements, knowingly placing it in the line of fire. Israel, of course, has denied this.

Russia’s anger is understandable. It cannot condemn its Syrian ally for the inadvertent attack thanks to the intricacies of Middle Eastern geopolitics. Therefore, Israel received the brunt of Russia’s frustration before Putin and Netanyahu moved to mend fences. Do not expect this situation to provide the spark for a larger conflict. Neither Israel or Russia will want this incident to have a negative effect on relations between the two countries, or the situation in the crowded skies around Syria.

 

Saturday 10 February, 2018 Update: Israeli F-16 Shot Down During Airstrikes in Syria

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Tensions in the Middle East are heightened this Saturday after Israel launched air strikes against Syrian air defense sites, and Iranian targets inside of Syria following an earlier incident when an Iranian UAV entered Israeli air space and was shot down. During the Israeli raids one F-16 was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in northern Israel. The pilots ejected safely, however, one sustained serious injuries according to reports. The incident marks the first time since the 1980s that an Israeli warplane has been shot down as a result of enemy action. Even more disconcerting is the fact that drone incident, and air strikes mark the first direct clash between Israeli and Iranian forces inside of Syria.

Israeli fighters struck the site where the drone was launched first. Subsequent strikes were made against other Iranian military targets in Syria, as well as Syrian air defense batteries. IDF reports do not indicate whether the F-16 was downed by AAA fire, or a SAM. The fighter carried a two man crew, indicating that was likely a type of F-16 that Israel uses in the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) role, leading to the conclusion that the Israelis were probably targeting SAM batteries. (note: Right before posting I learned the aircraft was in fact struck by an SA-5 SAM)

Today’s shootdown is the third one to take place in the Syrian skies this week. A Russian Su-25 Frogfoot was downed by FSA forces last Saturday, and earlier today it was confirmed that a Turkish helicopter over northern Syria was attacked and destroyed by Kurdish forces sometime in the past 24 hours.

The consequences of the action in Syria and northern Israel remain to be seen. There is a strong possibility that Israel’s response could be heavier air strikes against targets in Syria, possibly as part of a bigger effort to put more pressure on Iran.

Although the Olympic games are supposed to bring peace and goodwill to mankind, it would appear somebody forgot to tell that to Iran and Syria.