The Buk-M2E had not been earlier used to intercept Israeli missiles. The magazine suggested the weapons were operated by Russian military personnel.
Three announcements made on 20, 22, and 25 July by the Russian Ministry of Defence about the successful interception of Israeli missiles in Syrian airspace have prompted a heated debate among Middle Eastern and Western observers. Why have the briefings by the Russian Centre for Reconciliation produced so much fuss?
On 29 July, The Times of Israel commented on the downing of Israeli missiles in Syria, suggesting that “Russia might be testing” Naftali Bennett’s new Israeli government which came to power on 13 June, and adding that there’s “no reason for panic”.
However, Israel Hayom warned that Moscow may very soon “clip Israel’s wings” in the Arab Republic. The media outlet pinned the blame for the supposed shift on the new Bennett government, arguing that it “is seen as weak, inexperienced, and lacking in intellectual depth” in contrast to the preceding administration under Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Previously the Russian military was usually given some brief advance notice of Israeli attacks to make sure Russian troops were not in harm’s way, although there were regular Russian Ministry of Defence complaints about the short time window provided, often only a few minutes”, the security analyst points out.
Moscow has long criticised the Jewish state for air raids and strikes in Syrian territory. On 8 July 2021, Russia, Iran, and Turkey called upon Israel to suspend the attacks on the Arab Republic. For its part, Israel argues that it targets the positions of Hezbollah, designated as the terrorist organisation by the Jewish state, and alleged Iranian installations.
“The Russian military goes to extreme lengths to deconflict military operations with the US and avoid any military confrontation that could result in direct conflict between the nuclear armed powers”, he stresses. “Unless US military forces directly attack a Russian military base in Syria, it is difficult to foresee any situation where [the] Russian military would target American military missiles or aircraft”.
What’s Changed in Russia’s Reaction to Israeli Strikes?
Yet, on 20 July, a Russian military official, Rear Admiral Vadim Kulit, the head of the Russian Military Reconciliation Centre in Syria, announced that on 19 July, four Israeli F-16 fighter jets fired eight guided missiles at targets in Syria’s Aleppo Province, seven of which were destroyed by the Syrian air defences armed with Russian-made Pantsir (NATO name: SA-22 Greyhound) and Buk-M2E (NATO name: SA-17 Grizzly) systems.
On 22 July, two Israeli F-16s fired four guided missiles from Lebanese airspace at targets in Syria’s Homs province, all of which, according to Kulit, were intercepted by the Buk-M2E. On 25 July, two IAF F-16 jets fired two air-guided missiles at facilities in the settlement of Seidat-Zeinab, the Damascus governorate. Again, both rockets were shot down by the Buk-M2E.
According to Sleboda, “if Russia continues to actively exert air defence in Syria against Israeli attacks, this will force Israel to exclusively use ever more stand-off weapons, such as longer range munitions, drones and cruise missiles, for its attacks, fired at a greater distance out of Lebanese or Jordanian airspace, out of US occupied Syrian airspace in the east or in the south over al-Tanf base, or out of the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights.”
New Iranian President
However, “the very fact that a ‘hard-liner’ like Raisi… is viewed as supported by the supreme leader, may well denote a more active and aggressive foreign policy and military position being taken by the supreme leader and may well result in enhanced military support for Syria”, according to Sleboda.
Asymmetric & Political Actions
Nevertheless, Sleboda believes that neither Moscow nor Tehran is going to sharply raise the stakes in the region. According to him, “Russian and Iranian military strategy for the moment appears focused on [the] consolidation of Syrian government authority, reconstruction, and development over the majority of Syria already back under its control”.
“The hope is that in the long term the continued American and Turkish military occupations of Syria will eventually become economically and politically unpalatable at home”, he deems. “The Biden administration’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan and drawdown/force restructure in Iraq supports the idea of the effectiveness of this strategy over time. Eventually the Americans will get tired and their focus will turn elsewhere or inward, it is hoped”.