The Russian defense ministry said Monday that President Vladimir Putin will outfit the Syrian military with its sophisticated S-300 air defense system and jam radars of military planes striking from off the coast of the Mediterranean, in the wake of the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli strike last week.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said the incident was caused by “premeditated” actions by Israeli pilots, warning that this would harm relations between the two countries. “According to information of our military experts, the reason (behind the downing) were premeditated actions by Israeli pilots which certainly cannot but harm our relations,” Peskov told journalists.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a televised statement that the incident “has pushed us to adopt adequate response measures directed at boosting the security of Russian troops” in Syria.”
“[Russia will] transfer the modern S-300 air defense system to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks,” he said.
Putin has ordered several measures in response to the incident, the defense ministry said.
Shoigu also said Russia planned to jam radars of military planes striking from off the coast of the Mediterranean — measures that would seek to complicate Israel’s ongoing efforts to prevent Iran deepening its military presence in Syria and to thwart the transfer of weapons in Syria to Hezbollah.
“In regions near Syria over the Mediterranean Sea, there will be radio-electronic suppression of satellite navigation, on-board radar systems and communication systems of military aviation attacking objects on Syrian territory,” he said.
Russia had originally agreed to sell the system to Syria in 2013, but scrapped the plan at Israel’s behest. However, the Syrian military has already received training to use the system.
“We are certain that the realization of these measures will cool the ‘hot heads’ and will keep them from poorly thought-out actions which threaten our servicemen,” Shoigu said.
Peskov said the measures were “not intended against any third country” but simply “to protect our military.”
Syria’s Ambassador to Russia Riyad Haddad said following the announcement that Damascus required the S-300 “in order to defend Syrian land from Israel’s aggressive actions.”
Putin told Assad Monday of Moscow’s plan to deliver a new S-300 air defense system to the Syrian army, in the first conversation between the two leaders since the downing of the plane.
In the phone call, initiated by Assad, Putin spoke of “additional measures to ensure the safety of Russian troops in Syria and to reinforce the country’s air defense system, which includes the delivery of the modern S-300 systems,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
According to the Syrian president’s office, Putin told him the blame for the plane incident lay squarely with Israel.
Israeli fighter jets conducted the airstrike last Monday night on a weapons facility in the coastal city of Latakia that the IDF said was going to provide weapons to the Hezbollah terror group and other Iranian proxies. During a Syrian air defenses counterattack, the Russian spy plane was shot down by an S-200 anti-aircraft missile and its 15 crew members were killed.
Russia already has its own S-300 air defense system in Syria, along with the more advanced S-400 system.
However, defense analysts have questioned whether an S-300 system in Syrian, not Russian, hands could threaten Israel’s air power in the region and prevent it from being able to conduct strikes against targets in Syria.
Earlier this year Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman downplayed Israeli concerns over Russia’s purported plans to install the system in Syria.
“One thing needs to be clear: If someone shoots at our planes, we will destroy them. It doesn’t matter if it’s an S-300 or an S-700,” he said.
Israel’s former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, who currently heads the influential Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said months ago he assumed the air force would work quickly to destroy the S-300, if it were indeed handed over to Syria.
“If I know the air force well, we have already made proper plans to deal with this threat. After you remove the threat, which is basically what will be done, we’re back to square one,” Yadlin told Bloomberg news in April.
Moscow first announced that it was considering reversing its longtime policy against supplying the S-300 system to the regime following a series of airstrikes against Syrian targets by the United States, United Kingdom and France in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad.
The Russian-made system, made up of radar arrays and missile launchers, offers long-range protection against both fighter jets and missiles. The system has been supplied by Moscow to Tehran, and deployed by the Russian army in Syria alongside its more advanced iteration, the S-400.
The Israeli military on Sunday rejected the Russian defense ministry’s claim that it was entirely to blame for the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli strike last week, reiterating that Syria was at fault.
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces maintained its version of events — that the Russian reconnaissance plane was shot down as a result of indiscriminate Syrian anti-aircraft fire — and said it would continue to act to prevent terrorist groups from obtaining advanced weapons.
Earlier on Sunday, the Russian defense ministry released the findings of its investigation into the downing of the plane and the deaths of the crew. Moscow said Israel alone was responsible for the incident, accusing the IDF of failing to give notice of its attack in a timely and accurate manner, and claiming the Israeli pilots used the Russian surveillance aircraft as cover during their strike.
Nevertheless, the Israeli military said that it would continue to operate against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria and that it hoped its coordination efforts with Russia continued.
An Israel delegation that flew to Moscow last Thursday, led by IAF chief Amikam Norkin, detailed to the Russians that it gave considerable advance warning — 12 minutes, according to Israeli reports — and precise information on the target area to the Russians before the strike, that its jets did not hide behind the Russian plane, and that its planes had left the area before the Syrians fired one of 40 anti-aircraft missiles “indiscriminately,” downing the Russian plane. Israeli officials said on the return of the delegation that they believed their Russian hosts had accepted their version of events.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.