Friday, April 22, 2016

Israeli media claims that Russia has fired on Israeli fighter jets.

Israeli F-15 participating in a training mission in the United States. TSGT Kevin Gruenwald/US Air Force.

Israel's top newspaper claims that Russian forces in Syria have fired upon Israeli fighter jets on two occasions. Reuters. Details are sketchy, but Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu told the paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, that coordination issues between Russia and Israel have gotten worse. He calls for stronger coordination between the two countries. The report did not give any dates or locations for the incidents and did not say if any planes were hit. Russia dismissed the reports, saying they were far from reality. Last week a Russian jet approached an Israeli one near the Syrian coastline over the Mediterranean but no incident occurred. Israel has been active in the Syrian conflict and has often hit weapons shipments they claim are headed to Hezbollah. When the Russians joined the war, the Israelis immediately created a hotline between the two countries. 

My Comment:
As much as I hate writing about Israel, I will make an exception here. This is such a strange story. The Israelis are claiming that in two cases the Russians have fired on their airplanes. But they won't give any further details then that? Where did this happen? Was anyone hit? Did it involve air to air combat or was it a ground to air threat? The Russians claim it never happened and seem a bit confused about the whole thing.

So what happened here? I am not sure. It seems very unlikely that the Russians would fire on the Israelis. Russia and Israel aren't really allies but they have a better relationship then many of the other players in the Syrian drama. They also have a hotline set up to try and prevent these things.

Sure, Russia has definitely been pressuring its neighbors and the United States lately, but they usually don't resort to out and out shooting. The Russians signature move is to either cross borders, thus provoking a response like when the Turks shot down one of their planes, or to simply buzz by other jets and ships, like they have been doing recently. Actually firing on targets, either with warning shots or actually trying to shoot down planes, almost never happens. That isn't to say that Russia isn't capable of doing something this dumb, but I have to admit it doesn't seem to fit the profile of how they usually behave. 

It also isn't clear that this was an air to air engagement. It is possible that the Russians used their SAM sites in Syria to target Israeli airplanes. They could even have lit them up with the older style of flack AAA. Still, that seems very unlikely. I guess it could have been a case of mistaken identity. After all, the Israelis do fly similar aircraft to the United States, with their F-15's and F-16's. Perhaps the men on the ground fired at these jets without knowing they were Israelis?

Of course if that was the case, it begs the question, why on earth would the Russians be firing on American fighters either? I guess they could be trying to protect Assad's forces on the ground, but the United States, or the Israelis for that matter, never seem to directly target them. Plus it would be a huge escalation for the Russians to fire on American fighter jets, and it seems like something they would want to avoid. 

I guess there is a scenario that does make sense. Perhaps the Israelis were trying to destroy Hezbollah's forces. Hezbollah is working with the Syrian regime to fight ISIS and the various rebel groups, including al-Nusra, but Israel hates Hezbollah and consider them a major threat. Since Hezbollah and Syria are allies, that means the Russians may have a reason to defend them. Is it possible that the Israelis were trying to destroy Hezbollah troops/weapons depots, but the Russians didn't like it? I guess, but it still seems rather thin.

I think that the most plausible explanation is that it wasn't the Russians at all. The Syrian air force still has jets flying and some of them are similar to the planes the Russians fly. The SU-24 is a prime suspect and it is very possible that the Israelis mistook a Syrian jet for the Russian ones. 

If it was ground forces that attacked these jets, then who knows who was responsible. There are dozens of factions on the ground in Syria and most of them have a grudge against the Israelis. And MANPADS and other forms of anti-aircraft weapons are proliferating at an alarming rate. It could have been Hezbollah, ISIS, al-Nusra or even the FSA. Without knowing more about the incident, it's just pure speculation. 

My guess is that if there was anything that happened at all, it wasn't the Russians that were responsible for it. My first choice would be the Syrians, but even if it is the Russians, I doubt that these incidents were deliberate. If they are though, then Russia's actions make zero sense to me. I just can't think of a reason why they would want to actually fire upon Israeli targets. They could have been defending regime or Hezbollah troops on the ground, but even that seems unlikely. Hopefully this indecent gets explained better soon and the Israelis and Russians can go back to destroying terrorists. 

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