Skip to main content

Russian, Israeli jets share Syrian skies ... for now

Russia's military involvement in Syria is testing its relations with Israel and the determination of both countries to avoid a conflict.
A Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighter flies during a drill at the Russian southern Stavropol region, March 12, 2015.  Russia has started military exercises in the country's south, as well as in Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and in Crimea, annexed from Ukraine last year, news agency RIA reported on Thursday, citing Russia's Defence Ministry.  REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko  (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) - RTR4T448

Israel and Russia are acting like two lions on the African savanna. One, the younger one, rules the territory. He is used to walking around freely and doing almost anything he pleases without disturbance. Suddenly another lion appears on the scene, more mature, stronger, far more powerful. The two lions warily eye one another. Neither wants to get involved in a squabble that might inflict harm. The territory is large enough for them both, and their interests are not necessarily incompatible. They decide on a “cold peace” kind of coexistence involving a certain amount of coordination in the joint territory. What we see now is how these two lions circle each other, checking out the other’s alertness and vigilance, sniffing, setting out boundaries, checking each other’s responses, trying to determine the rules of the game.

This is how a Western diplomat stationed in the Middle East and speaking on condition of anonymity described what is going on between Israel and Russia regarding events in Syria. According to foreign reports, on Oct. 30 the Israeli air force attacked Syrian army and Hezbollah targets on Syrian territory. Over the last two weeks, the Russians are regularly striking rebel targets throughout Syria. Some of these strikes take place in the Syrian Golan Heights, not far from the Israeli border. One of the attacks almost reached the border zone; it took place in the Daraa region, about six miles from the border between Israel and Syria. Russia is using these airstrikes to test Israel’s nerves. Israeli policy is clear: Its air force intercepts every plane or aerial object that reaches Israel’s border line, without asking too many questions. What will happen if Russian fighter planes accidentally cross this line? No one in the Israel Defense Forces is willing to answer this question.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 for annual access.