Israeli and American military delegations have been sent to Ukraine to train against the Russian advanced S-300 missile defense system recently deployed in Syria, according to Hebrew-language Hadashot TV, and Times of Israel.
Both delegations are learning how to defend themselves and evade the system through instruction from their Ukrainian counterparts. It is not clear whether Israeli pilots are actually flying against the system or not.
This is not the first time Israel Air Force pilots have encountered the S-300 system: Israeli pilots have been training in combat against the system since at least 2007. Moreover, Israel recently took delivery from the United States of some of the 50 F-35 Adir Stealth Fighter Jets that will eventually comprise two new squadrons in the IAF.
Both the USAF and IAF have flown with the F-35 in Syria missions.
Israel has made it plain, more than once, that it will not tolerate Iran’s military presence in Syria and will do whatever it takes to eliminate that existential threat from across its northern border, regardless of how much friction that might cause with Russia.
Iran is a generous patron of the Lebanese-based Hezbollah guerrilla organization. The two have been working together to support President Bashar al-Assad’s war against opposition forces in Syria over the past seven years.
The war is just about over, leaving Iran the opportunity to focus its attention on establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and transferring advanced weaponry to Hezbollah – and leaving Hezbollah the time and wherewithal to focus its attention on resuming its conflict with Israel as Iran’s proxy.
While Russia has maintained positive ties with Israel, coordinating its military forces with those of the IDF so as to avoid conflicts in Syria, nevertheless a recent tragedy in which a Russian spy plane was shot down by Syria during an Israeli air strike on an Iranian military position highlights just how fragile those ties really are.
Russia blamed Israel for the incident, claiming the IAF jets used its reconnaissance plane as cover for the strike, despite Israeli intelligence data proving that Israeli aircraft were already back in Israeli airspace when Syrian missiles fired at the Russian plane, killing all 15 crew members aboard.
Russia, Syria’s strongest and biggest benefactor, can ill afford to enter into a conflict with either Assad or Iran at this point: It’s far easier to throw Israel under the bus, or ask the IDF to simply “swallow the medicine.”
But even that has its limits, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear when he reiterated that Israel would not stop its air strikes against Iranian targets when necessary.