An Israeli cabinet minister has warned that if the Syrians use their recently supplied advanced Russian air defense missiles to bring down Israeli planes over Israeli territory, the launchers would be targeted — even if that means endangering Russian military specialists at the launch sites.
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who is also co-chair of the Russia-Israel Intergovernmental Commission, told Russian media Monday that it was a “big mistake” for Moscow to supply its ally Syria with the S-300 missile system, because the advanced missiles, which are considered a significant threat to Israeli air power in the area, “might lead to destabilization of the situation.”
Elkin cautioned that “considering the mess” that the Syrian army was in, the Syrians cannot be trusted to operate the equipment correctly and may end up shooting down an “Israeli military or commercial plane over Israeli territory.”
Israel, he noted, reacts to attacks on its territory and aircraft with “practical actions,” which would “undoubtedly take place” against the launchers should Israeli aircraft be hit in Israeli airspace.
“I greatly hope that there would be no Russian military specialists [at the missile launch sites],” he said, stressing that in the past Israel has taken pains to ensure that Russian military personnel are not hurt through its actions in Syria.
The Israeli Air Force has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years against targets linked to Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, which Israel says are working to establish a military presence there that could threaten the Jewish state.
Moscow shipped the missiles to Syria last month, after one of its military planes was downed by a Syrian missile during an Israeli strike in the country.
Moscow has blamed Israel for the incident, in which 15 Russian servicemen were killed, saying an Israeli jet had used the Russian plane as cover — a charge denied by Israel.
Although satellite images show the S-300s have been deployed in Syria, Israeli officials have said they are thought to not yet be operational.
Elkin’s comment came after last month Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman rejected reported demands by Moscow that Israel give the Russian military additional warning before carrying out airstrikes in Syria.
Hadashot TV news had reported that Russia is insisting it receive further advance warning of Israeli strikes, though the report did not say how much. Israel usually informs Russia minutes before an airstrike.
Israeli leaders have vowed to continue carrying out strikes in Syria amid tensions with Russia over the downing of the Russian military reconnaissance plane, though no airstrikes have been attributed to Israel since the September 17 incident.
Like Russia, both Iran and Hezbollah are fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the Syrian civil war.