Russia said Monday it would equip Syria with sophisticated air defense systems, a move that could worsen a rift with Israel by limiting its ability to bomb across its northern border.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow would send Russia’s powerful S-300 ground-to-air missile systems to Syria, a longtime ally, in the next two weeks. Israel, which has repeatedly bombed Iranian targets in Syria, has long opposed such deliveries, and Russia up to now has refrained from supplying the weapons.
But the downing last week of a Russian reconnaissance plane with 15 service members aboard changed the dynamic. The plane was shot down by a Syrian missile, but Russia faulted Israel for the crash because an Israeli fighter jet allegedly had used the Russian plane as a screen against Syria’s air defenses.
Israel, by contrast, said that its air force had not violated any agreements with Russia and that Israeli jets had already returned to Israeli airspace when the missiles were launched. The crash was one of the deadliest incidents for regular Russian service members in the Syrian war.
“Today, the situation has changed, for no fault of ours,” Shoigu said in a televised statement Monday announcing the S-300 deliveries.
Shoigu said Russia also will jam military aircraft communications in the airspace next to Syria over the Mediterranean Sea while upgrading Syria’s air defense command systems.