Russia’s sudden deployment of S-300 surface-to-air missiles in Syria last week raised the stakes in Syria significantly for the U.S. and Israel.
While it is easy to conclude things have become far more dangerous, the fact is that there are certain important aspects of the situation on the ground that we just don’t know.
Before we consider what we don’t know, it is important to understand what we do know about what has happened since a Syrian surface-to-air missile crew shot down a Russian IL-20 spy plane on September 17.
Russia deployed forces and aircraft to Syria in 2015 to prevent the defeat of the Iranian-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war. Shortly after Russian forces arrived in Syria, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow to work out a deconfliction mechanism with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That mechanism enabled the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to continue attacking Iranian military targets in Syria, as it had been doing since the outset of the war in Syria without coming into direct conflict with Russia.
On September 17, the IAF bombed Iranian-Hezbollah targets in Syria’s Latakia region. According to Israel, the IAF informed the Russians of its plan to attack 12 minutes before the raid took place, sufficient time for all Russian air and other assets to avoid danger.