Damascus air defence downed its first Israeli jet (F-16) ever, at a stroke changing the rules of engagement (ROE) with Israel and sending a clear message that it is ready for war and will no longer be silent on violations of its airspace. This clash has triggered the mobilisation of the Syrian army and its allies in Syria and in Lebanon, the Lebanese Hezbollah.
The speed of the Syrian reaction was due to a prior decision taken at highest level among all allies operating on Syrian territory. These consider a possible confrontation may be inevitable if Israel has decided to respond and declare war. The violation of Syrian sovereignty is no longer an option open to Israel and the Israeli jets will no longer be able to carry out their usual promenades over the Levant without consequences.
Moreover, it is also clear that Russia – despite all that is said in the media – is aware of the Syrian decision to confront Israel. Moscow is supplying Syria with anti-aircraft missiles, its forces dominates the air space over the Syrian Army’s controlled territory, and has the radar capability to see and monitor any Israeli aircraft flying over Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Russia is also informed when the Syrian army repeatedly fires missiles and confronts the Israeli air force in the sky over Syria or in the border areas.
It is not in the interests of Russia to see war break out in Syria where its forces are present on the ground and in the Mediterranean. Russia considers it has the right to intervene because its official presence on Syrian territory is at the request of an agreement with the Damascus government. In its role as a superpower, it is in its interest to stop the tension on the Syrian border and show it has the power to impose peace on would-be belligerents.
It is also in Moscow’s interests to push Syria to react to Israel’s violations, even at the cost of downing an Israeli jet- especially when Russia accuses Washington of supplying the Faylaq al-Sham militants (al-Qaeda’s allies in northern Syria city of Idlib and its surroundings) with the anti-aircraft missiles which downed the Russian jet over Idlib and to the murder of its pilot who refused to surrender to the militants and jihadists.
All of this took place one day after the liberation of the entire area from the “Islamic State” (ISIS) group in rural Aleppo, Homs and Idlib, with over 1200 square kilometres returned to government control. This freed over fifteen thousand officers and soldiers from the Syrian army and special units which were engaged there to move to another front, the one against Israel if necessary, with al-Qaeda as the only remaining threat to the Syrian state.
This shows that the government of Damascus – which lived in a state of war for more than six years – is ready to fight its battle with Israel and begin now. The Lebanese Second War in 2006 proved that air force power does not give superiority and does not finish off the opponent, Hezbollah, whose militants continued firing missiles and rockets consistently throughout the 33 days of war. The thousands of missiles delivered to Syria from Russia and Iran in the last years represent a major threat to Israel in the event of war, invalidating its air superiority.
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