Has Russia changed its stance on defending Syria?
By Ian Greenhalgh on March 21, 2017
by Ian Greenhalgh
Back on the 6th of October, 2016, in the wake of the US coalition air strikes on Deir Ezzur that killed dozens of Syrian troops, Russian General Konashenkov issued a clear and stark statement regarding any future airstrikes against Syrian government forces; he stated that they would be considered a ‘clear threat’ to Russian servicemen who were fighting alongside their Syrian allies and that Russian SAM systems would shoot down any aircraft or missiles that posed a threat.
6 months later and we have just seen Israeli aircraft strike at Syrian forces near Palmyra, an attack that can only be interpreted as the Israelis providing air support for ISIS. The official excuse from the Israelis is that they were attacking Hezbollah and that they consider such strikes against Hezbollah as completely legitimate and within Israel’s rights as Hezbollah, in Israel’s view is a dangerous threat to them as they are an Iranian proxy army.
Gen. Konashenkov visiting Syria last year
Of course, the Israelis are lying, there are no Hezbollah personnel within 200km of Palmyra, once again Israel has been exposed as lying and scheming and using it’s military to interfere in the affairs of the sovereign nation of Syria.
So why has the sole Russian response to this Israeli crime been to summon the Israeli ambassador to the Kremlin to explain his nation’s actions? The Kremlin should make it very clear to the Israelis – this attack is completely unacceptable, that their cover story about attacking Hezbollah is also unacceptable as it is clearly a complete fabrication. Therefore the Israelis must explain themselves and account for their actions – or face the consequences.
Iran has strongly condemned the ‘flagrant aggression of Israeli fighter jets bombing Syrian territory’, calling on the UN to use its office to prevent the repeat of such violations of peace and security by the Israeli regime.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi categorically condemned the Israeli regime for breaching Syrian airspace and targeting military sites :
“This Zionist aggression against the Syrian territory, especially at the time when the Syrian Army has been having the upper hand against terrorists and been driving them out of cities and villages one by one, proves the limitless shared positions and interests of the illegitimate occupying regime in strengthening the Takfiri- Zionist terrorists,” Ghasemi said on Saturday.
Iran has spoken out to strongly condemn Israel’s illegal airstrikes on Syria.
The Syrians themselves are being very clear and straightforward in their handling of this matter – enemy aircraft violated their airspace and attacked their troops, therefore they fired on these enemy aircraft with the upgraded S-200 system Gen Konashenkov mentioned last year and shot one of them down.
However, if the Russians had done as Konashenkov had stated they would have also fired on the Israeli aircraft and left them smouldering piles of wreckage in the Syrian desert – the ‘immediate response’ the General had promised.
The identity of the aircraft should have been no bar to this response either, as the General had clearly stated that there would be no time to identify them before firing.
Why didn’t the Russians fire? Was it because they knew these were Israeli aircraft? Are we to take it that General Konashenkov’s statements referred only to US and coalition aircraft and excluded the Israelis?
The Russian S-400 “Triumf,” also known by its NATO codename of SA-21 “Growler,” produced by the Almaz-Antey Central Design Bureau.
According to a Syrian military source, the Syrian Air Defense informed their Russian advisers regarding their intentions to retaliate against the Israeli warplanes that attacked their positions near Palmyra.
Russian Marines advising the Syrian Arab Army in western Palmyra were only a few kilometers away from one of the sites the Israeli warplanes attacked on Friday morning, therefore the Russians would be fully justified if they chose to protect their men on the ground from airstrikes by firing their own SAMs.
This whole situation leaves us with many questions and concerns; questions and concerns that are shared by the Syrian government – they too wonder what is going on with the Russians and Israelis, what the exact relationship between them is and where we go from here.
Syria is deeply concerned and rightfully so, they are completely in the dark as to Israeli-Russian relations and how they effect Syria and the ongoing war.
The Russian S-400 SAM systems deployed at their bases in Syria have a range of 400km, which covers almost the entire country and half of Israel too.
We are seeing the Israelis involve themselves more in the war – there have been further Israeli drone and artillery strikes in the Syrian southwest, near the Golan Heights, therefore the Syrian government is preparing itself for a new phase in the conflict that may well see Syrian forces under attack by Israeli forces, not only air strikes, but ground forces entering Syrian territory too, again under the cover story of confronting Hezbollah terrorists.
Yesterday, the Syrian Arab Army shot down an Israeli drone hovering inside Syrian airspace while observing army positions in the Golan Heights. According to a statement released by the Syrian military, the Skylark reconnaissance drone was shot down over Samadaniyah Sharqiah, near the border town of Al-Quneitra.
Israeli drone shot down over the Syrian Golan yesterday.
President Assad has made it clear, Syria needs the help and support of Russia in order to be able to defend itself from Israeli aggression, he told Russian reporters:
“Russia can play a role so that Israel no longer attacks Syria,”
So here we are, 6 years into the war, 2 years into the Russian intervention to save the Syrians and despite the fall of Aleppo and other notable successes, the war appears to be no closer to ending; rather, the slow collapse of ISIS forces appears to be offset by the entry into the fight of new players – already the Turkish army has joined the fray in the north and it appears that it is only a matter of time before the Israelis join in the fighting in the south.
All eyes are on the Kremlin, they all want to know what the Russians are going to do, everyone wonders just what is the nature of the relationship between Putin and Netanyahu; answers have not been forthcoming and this leaves everyone in a deeply concerned state, fearing that we are about to enter a new and dangerous phase in the seemingly never-ending conflict.
Everyone is looking to the Russians to stand up to the Israelis and their US and Turkish partners in crime; furthermore, everyone is wondering why the mighty Russian bear has yet to stand up to them.
Everyone wants to know just what is the relationship between Putin and Netanyahu?
The Daily Telegraph
Russia warns it will shoot down alliance jets over Syria if US launches air strikes against Assad
Russian forces could shoot down coalition jets if the United States launches airstrikes against pro-government forces in Syria, the Russian ministry of defence has said.
American officials have reportedly discussed using limited airstrikes to force Bashar al-Assad’s government to halt its assault on Aleppo and return the negotiating table after a ceasefire collapsed last month.
In Moscow’s starkest warning yet against Western intervention in the war, Russia’s chief military spokesman said that any airstrikes on government-held territory in Syria would be considered a “clear threat” to Russian servicemen.
US military planners should “carefully consider the possible consequences” of such action, Major General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Thursday.
“Today, the Syrian army has effective S-200, Buk and other air defense systems, which have undergone technical renovation in the past year,” he said.
“I remind US ‘strategists’ that air cover for the Russian military bases in Tartus and Hmeymim includes S-400 and S-300 anti aircraft missile systems, the range of which may come as a surprise to any unidentified flying objects,” he added.
Russian air defence troops would not have time to identify the flight path of incoming rockets or aircraft that fired them, and would respond immediately, Maj. Gen. Konashenkov added.
Officials from the State Department, CIA, and Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed using limited airstrikes to pressure Bashar al-Assad to halt an assault on Aleppo and return to the negotiating table at a meeting in the White House last week, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
The discussion came after the United States suspended bilateral consultations with Russia over Syria, saying that Moscow had failed to live up to commitments to rein in a ferocious aerial and ground assault on the opposition-held eastern districts of Aleppo.
Russia earlier rejected a calls from John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, for a total suspension of military flights over Syria in order to restore the ceasefire.
Moscow blames the collapse of a short lived ceasefire on a US-led alliance airstrike that mistakenly killed dozens of Syrian government soldiers on September 17. Maj. Gen Konashenkov said measures had been taken to prevent a repetition of such “mistakes.”
The US believes Russia and the Syrian regime destroyed the ceasefire when they bombed a humanitarian convoy in revenge.
Russia announced the deployment of the S-330 VM, an advanced anti-aircraft missile that can also intercept cruise missiles, to Syria on Tuesday.
Thursday’s warning came as the Russian foreign ministry appeared to accuse the United States of involvement in a mortar attack on its Damascus embassy.
No one was hurt in the attack on Monday, which saw several rounds landed in the compound of the Russian embassy. The ministry said it believed the shells had been fired from a rebel-held neighbourhood.
“We see links between this terror attack and the threats Washington issued against us earlier,” said Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry.
She was referring to comments by John Kirby, a US State Department spokesman who said last week that Russia had an interest in stopping the violence in Syria because extremists could exploit the vacuum there and launch attacks “against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities.”
There has been mounting speculation in the Russian media that the crisis in Syria could lead to military confrontation or even war with the United States.
Several newspapers have run prominent features asking whether Russia would act to protect her Syrian allies in the event of US airstrikes against pro-government troops or infrastructure.
The implications, many have noted, are alarming.
“If Moscow is silent, her geopolitical significance will be reduced to zero. If she answers – that is already a big war,” warned Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted on Thursday.
Semen Bagsadov, director of the Centre for Middle East and Central Asian Studies, told Moskovsky Komsomolets, a tabloid, that the Soviet Union had downed US aircraft over Korea and Vietnam without triggering a Third World War.
Others, however, have urged caution. Konstantin Sivkov, an expert at the Russian artillery academy, told the independent NSN new agency that war was unlikely because the United States could wipe out Russia’s air contingent in Syria “in a few days.”
Spiraling tensions between the US and Russia appeared to reach a peak this week when Vladimir Putin suspended a plutonium reprocessing deal because of “unfriendly” American policies.