The situation in Ukraine has opened a widening rift between Israel and Russia that many fear could ultimately result in armed confrontation.
If an Israel Channel 13 News report is to be believed, the first shots in the Israel-Russia conflict have already been fired.
Last week, Israel Air Force (IAF) jets allegedly attacked targets in northern Syria. That’s not out of the ordinary.
But this time, according to unnamed sources cited by Channel 13, Russian military units stationed in Syria opened fire on the Israeli aircraft.
Syrian military air defenses have been almost entirely ineffective in preventing Israeli airstrikes on targets in the country.
But there are a number of advanced Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft batteries deployed throughout Syria that until now have not been activated against the Israelis.
Those batteries are operated by Russian military personnel and are under Russian military command. And one of them reportedly joined Syrian air defenses in attacking Israeli planes last week.
If true, experts said this marks a significant and dangerous policy shift on the part of Moscow.
With friends like these…
Israel tried to maintain at least the semblance of neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war, believing it could play a role in brokering a ceasefire.
But as soon as Israel started to lean more toward Ukraine, Russia’s rhetoric against the Jewish state escalated exponentially.
And there were concerns that this new unfriendly rhetoric would be followed by a policy shift in Syria, where for the past several years Russia has turned a blind eye to Israeli strikes on Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces that are deemed a threat to the Jewish state.
The not-so-mighty bear
The bright side to this story is that the S-300 radar was reportedly no more successful than Syria’s older anti-aircraft systems in locking on to the Israeli aircraft, and ultimately posed no threat to them.
Israeli commentators have noted that Russia’s lackluster military performance in Ukraine suggests that Israel has less to fear than it supposed should Russian forces in Syria turn hostile.
For more on this topic, see: Are Russia and China the New Gog and Magog?