Haaretz reports: The immediate reason for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow on Monday is increased Russian military involvement in Syria.
On Sunday, the first satellite photos were released from the air base that Russia is building on the Alawite strip of coast in northern Syria near Latakia. Netanyahu, who in an unusual step is taking Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, with him and, at the last minute, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, will devote much of his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to preventing direct friction between Israel and Russia in the north.
The aircraft photographed in northern Syria are Sukhoi 27s. Their main mission, according to experts on the Russian Air Force, is to ensure aerial superiority, not bombardment. That underscores the assessment that Russia has not sent its forces to the region just to fight Islamic State, which is what Russia stresses in justifying its new military deployment, but that Moscow wants to establish a more significant presence. Anti-aircraft batteries will apparently also be deployed to protect the base, as well as a small number of ground forces, tanks, APCs, and a special low-profile unit, in what is reminiscent of Russia’s conduct in the war in Ukraine.
But beyond reducing the risk of an unwanted clash between Israeli and Russian fighter jets over Syria or Lebanon, it seems that the visit should be seen in a wider context of tensions between Moscow and Washington.
And although Netanyahu only last week said “commentators” were wrong when they warned of a collapse of ties between Israel and the United States in light of the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu’s current visit to Moscow could be seen as an Israeli jab at Washington. The visit seems to reflect Netanyahu’s lack of faith in the ability or the intent of the United States to protect Israel’s security interests.
The visit cannot be considered good news in Washington, which led a campaign of condemnation and sanctions against Moscow over its involvement in the war in Ukraine last summer. (Israel did not take a position on that conflict and was duly rewarded by Russia which issued a moderate response to Israel’s actions in the war on Gaza shortly thereafter.) [Continue reading…]
Haaretz reports: Russia’s stationing in Syria of the Su-27, which as an air-superiority fighter is designed to seize control of enemy airspace in order to establish air supremacy, rather than ground-attack aircraft reinforces fears in the West and in Israel that Russia’s real goal is not to fight ISIS but rather to protect the Syrian regime, in concert with Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.
Some sources have said the planes were the Sukhoi Su-30 model, which are better suited to long-range missions and air-to-ground attacks than the Su-27. Even if that’s the case, they are not the best choice if the goal is to attack mobile targets such as those of the Islamic State organization in Syria.
The Su-27 will presumably not operate against Islamic State, which has no air force of its own, and would instead be used to create a defensive aerial umbrella over western Syria that would prevent, or at least significantly obstruct, the operation of other air forces in the area.
If the United States or another country should in the future want to strike Syrian regime forces from the air, that would lead to a direct conflict with Russia. It would also limit the freedom of action of U.S. and other air forces in attacking ISIS targets in Syria. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, a Syrian military source told Reuters on Thursday, underlining growing Russian support for Damascus that is alarming the United States.
“The weapons are highly effective and very accurate, and hit targets precisely,” the source said in response to a question about Russian support. “We can say they are all types of weapons, be it air or ground.” [Continue reading…]