Despite the Russian deployment of an advanced missile defense system in Syria, the Israel Air Force will still operate as normal, thanks to constant coordination between Tel Aviv and Moscow, a senior military official said on Thursday.
Following an intensive, nation-wide aerial exercise, which included thousands of sorties from several bases and involved both fighter jets and attack helicopters, the officer simultaneously boasted that “we do not notify anyone in advance” of Israeli strikes, while also stressing that there are mechanisms in place to avoid conflict with Russia.
In addition, the Israeli Navy made its own display of strength on Thursday, successfully testing its new “Barak 8” missile defense system, which operates at a shorter distance than the recently deployed Russian S-400, but can be installed on naval ships as well as on the ground.
Israel is walking a tight rope with Russia in Syria. While Israel has made it clear that it will carry out strikes against Hezbollah and the Syrian Army in order to defend Israeli sovereignty, the IAF must be careful to avoid harming Russian troops or being too aggressive in its strikes against Syrian forces, who are being supported by Moscow.
‘We know how to make sure that we don’t even come close. It’s just a question of picking up the phone and talking’
The IAF officer told reporters at the Tel Nof air force base in Rehovot that an incident like the one between Turkey and Russia on Tuesday — in which a Russian Su-24M jet was shot down while allegedly over Turkish airspace — would not happen to Israel due to the close coordination between the countries. This was agreed in late September at the highest level of military, when IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot met his Russian counterpart in Moscow.
“It’s quite a simple mechanism,” the officer said. “We know how to make sure that we don’t even come close. It’s just a question of picking up the phone and talking.”
In response to the clash with Turkey, Russian President Vladmir Putin deployed the S-400 missile defense system, which is capable of detecting and shooting down aircraft from up to 400 kilometers (250 miles) away. This distance includes all of Syria, Cyprus and Lebanon, and nearly half of Israel.
If the S-400 had been in place a week before, the Russian military would have been able to track the majority of the IAF’s airplanes taking part in the exercise. Only those aircraft operating south of Jerusalem would have been out of the radar system’s range.
“The ease with which we could fly in enemy skies became very complicated. That which we know is there – we can handle relatively well – the question is what we don’t know is there,” the air force officer admitted.
“The Russians are here. They’re a central player that cannot be ignored,” the officer said on Thursday. “We mainly want to be in a ‘Live and let live’ situation. Russia is not the enemy, on the contrary. Our planes are trying to avoid friction with the Russians, and they’re trying to avoid friction with us. In order to not bring pilots from either side to situation where a question arises we just steer clear.”
However, he said, “We make sure we do our job.”