Russia may provide Damascus with sophisticated S-300 air defense missiles following the downing of a Russian IL-20 airplane in Syria last week, which could curb Israeli jets' freedom of action in the region.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu went on television to say that the Russian side will deliver to the Syrian government forces the advanced anti-aircraft system within the next two weeks.
“It is capable of intercepting air assault means at ranges of more than 250 kilometers and at the same time hitting several air targets,” the Shoigu said on Russia 24.
On September 17, a Russian IL-20 was downed, killing the entire 15-man crew on board. Russia accuses Israel of downing the plane, but Israeli officials have denied the accusations and suspects the incident was due to miscalculations by Syria. Israeli pilots allegedly hid behind Russian aircraft, but claim they were in Israeli airspace.
In response to the incident, the Russian defense minister said Moscow will equip Syrian air defense with high-tech systems to enhance its efficiency and reduce the risk of a similar incident.
The S-300 system, known to NATO as the SA-10 “Grumble”, is a long-range surface-to-air missile system similar to early versions of the U.S.’ Patriot missile. The Israeli officials have asked Moscow to not supply the S-300 missiles to Syria, as it could limit the Israeli Air Force’s freedom of operation in the region.
During his speech, Shoigu made it clear that Russia will not suspend the supply of S-300s to Damascus, saying “the situation has changed, and it is not our fault.”
“We are convinced that these measures will calm down some hotheads and keep them from careless actions which pose a threat to our troops,” the minister said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call that the information provided by the Israeli commander about the downing of the Russian IL-20 plane does not coincide with the conclusions of the Russian Ministry of Defense. Putin then informed Netanyahu of his decision to provide Syria with advanced surface-to-air missiles.
In turn, the Israeli prime minister warned Putin about unpleasant consequences that could result from the deal, saying handing over advanced weapons systems to irresponsible hands will increase dangers in the region.
The U.S. National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, John Bolton, criticized the Russian deal with Syria, calling it “a significant escalation by the Russians,” hoping that Moscow would “reconsider” the sale.