Netanyahu: We'll keep hitting Iran in Syria even with S-300s

Russia believes that Israel was responsible for the downing of its military plane and the loss of 15 Russian military personnel that were on board.

By
September 24, 2018 23:00
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow on January 29, 2018.. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

 
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The IDF will continue to strike at Iranian targets in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, one day after Russia announced plans to bolster that country’s defenses by transferring the advanced S-300 anti-missile system there within two weeks.

“We give full backing to the IDF in its actions to defend the state. We will continue to take action to prevent the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria,” he said.

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Netanyahu spoke before departing for New York, where he plans to meet with US President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly for what will be their fifth face-to-face encounter.

Russian plans regarding the S-300, which the US also opposes, will be an important part of that conversation. Israel fears that the anti-missile system will make it more difficult for the IDF to execute air raids against Iranian targets.

The decision to transfer the S-300 comes after a Russian war plane was shot down over Syria on September 17, leading to the death of 15 Russian military personnel. Russia has blamed Israel, while Israel in turn has accused Syria and Iran of downing the plane.

In spite of the harsh exchange of rhetoric, Netanyahu said that in a Monday night conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two had agreed that the Israeli and Russian armies would continue their security coordination in Syria.

“We will continue the security coordination between the IDF and the Russian military. To this end, I agreed with President Putin that IDF and Russian military working teams would meet soon. We will do what is necessary to defend the security of Israel,” he said.

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“Since the tragic events in the skies over Syria, I have spoken twice with President Putin. I expressed to him our deep regret over the loss of the crew of the Russian plane that was brought down by irresponsible Syrian anti-aircraft fire. “This morning I convened the security cabinet, which received a full update on the recent events. The security cabinet ministers also share in the deep sorrow of the Russian families and the Russian people.

“In the past three years, Israel has been very successful in preventing both the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria and the attempts to transfer lethal weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is not to say that there haven’t been exceptions, but all in all there has been very great success. We did this with maximum and successful security coordination with the Russian military.”

But as Netanyahu attempted to brush aside the conflict with Moscow, Russia announced that it has radar data proving that Israeli jets hid behind the Il-20 aircraft to shield them from Syrian anti-aircraft missiles last week.

“Today, we will give additional data available to the Russian Defense Ministry to track the Israeli planes and the S-200 system’s missile literally second-by-second,” said ministry spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov.

The data were gathered from radars at the command and control post of the S-400 missile system deployed by Russia at the Kmeymim Air Base in the coastal province of Latakia.

Moscow has placed the blame for last week’s downing of the Russian reconnaissance plane on Israel, accusing it of using the Il-20 as cover to carry out strikes on targets in Syria.

Israel’s military sent a delegation of senior air force officials headed by IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin to Moscow to pres- ent the IDF’s investigation into the incident. The IDF has flatly denied using the Il-20 as cover and has stated that all Israeli jets were back in Israeli airspace when the plane was hit.

Konashenkov said on Monday that data from the Russian S-400 fire-control system show that at least one Israeli jet flew at an altitude of 10,000 meters and that the radar system recorded the flight of a Syrian S-200 missile which was targeting the IAF F-16 but then changed its direction to target the Il-20.

“Today’s data no longer suggest, but clearly prove that the blame for the tragedy with the Russian Il-20 aircraft lies entirely with the Israeli Air Force and with those who authorized this kind of activity,” he said.

Konashenkov again refuted Israel’s claims that all jets had left Syrian airspace prior to the incident, showing on a slide depicting the incident that one IAF jet remained in the area after the reconnaissance plane was hit.

“The signal from the Russian Il-20 disappeared from the radar. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Israeli F-16s are still in this area, with one of them being in the direct vicinity of the site of the incident. Please note that the number of this air target of the Israeli F-16 has changed. It means that it had changed the direction and altitude of the flight immediately after the incident. It is clearly recorded by the S-400’s radars,” Konashenkov stressed.

Israel has placed the blame for the incident squarely on the Syrian regime which shot the Russian-made anti-aircraft battery during an Israeli air strike by F-16 fighter jets on a Syrian military facility near the coastal city of Latakia on Monday night.

Following the downing of the jet, Moscow announced it would supply Syria with the advanced S-300 missile defense system and impose electronic countermeasures over Syria’s coastline, which would suppress satellite navigation, on-board radar systems and communications of warplanes attacking targets on Syrian territory.

Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reported that the first set of Russian electronic defense systems has already been sent to Kmeimim Air Base in Latakia on an Il-76 plane and will be used by Russian forces stationed there. According to the report, Putin notified Syrian President Bashar Assad about the transfer of the systems on Monday during a phone call.

Both Israel and the United States have warned against the supply of the S-300, which according to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper would see four batteries sent to Syria in the next two weeks and another possible six to eight sent at a later date.

The report added that the system, which is able to track multiple targets simultaneously at a range of 300 km., would be deployed along the borders of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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