A former Israeli colonel believes that the coordination between Russia and Israel on Syria is not in jeopardy. The reason for this is a number of common interests, including the desire to avoid accidents in Syrian skies and the willingness to make sure that Iran doesn’t cement its position in the Arab country.
The upcoming days will be a test for Israeli-Russian coordination in Syria. The latter kicked off in 2015 following Moscow’s decision to become involved in the Syrian civil war after the repeated pleas of President Bashar al-Assad.
Following the exchange of fire on the Israel-Lebanon border on Friday, the assessment in the Jewish state is that another attack might still be looming.
And it might emanate from Syria, where Tel Aviv has been periodically carrying out attacks on alleged Hezbollah and Iranian targets.
Coordination Under Question?
Now, Israel’s rather free hand in Syria might be coming to an end.
Recent Israeli reports quoting unnamed Russian sources suggest that Moscow has decided to pull the plug on its coordination with Israel. They also stated that Russia has already begun to aid Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in “closing off Syrian airspace to Israeli airplanes”.
Russia has neither confirmed, nor denied these reports yet.
But Eran Lerman, a retired IDF colonel, who held various senior positions within Israel’s military intelligence, says his country has nothing to worry about because “there has not been any strategic change in that coordination”.
Such a shift in policy, says Lerman, would have far-reaching implications for both sides, and this is why he is doubtful Moscow would want to backtrack from its current course.
Russia and Israel have a number of common interests pushing them to coordinate on the Syrian front. Both would like to avoid incidents over Syria’s skies, like the one that occurred in 2018 when Israel used a Russian military plane as a shield against Syrian air defence systems.
This led to the crash of the Russian plane, killing 15 people on board, and although Moscow initially pinned the blame on Israel, calling its actions “irresponsible”, it did end up boosting coordination to make sure such tragic events never happen again.
And both nations, says Lerman, would like to make certain that Iran doesn’t cement its positions in Syria.
“Russia has been investing much in the survival of Assad, so allowing Iran to utilise Syria as a launching pad could put these achievements at risk. That’s why I doubt Moscow will want to draw Syria into more conflict”.
New Government, New Problems?
Yet, those interests are now facing a challenge and the main one is a new government in Israel.
In June, then head of Israel’s opposition Yair Lapid informed the country’s president that he was able to form a coalition.
The new government under the leadership of the chairman of the party Yamina Naftali Bennett was sworn in in mid-June, effectively ending the tenure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been known for his warm ties with Moscow.
Bennett, on the other hand, is perceived as somebody who will be tilting towards the United States, and Lerman says it will not be to the liking of Moscow.
“The new government of Israel is yet to establish warm and effective relations that have been slowly and meticulously built by Netanyahu. There is a perception in Moscow that this government is closer to Washington and that influences the tones of the Russian statements”.
“Nevertheless, Lapid and Bennett might use this cooperation to build a dialogue with Moscow, and there are people in the current Israeli government, who have been active in establishing that coordination with Russia, and will help to expand those ties in the future”, he says.