An alleged Russian-operated Syrian S-300 missile surface-to-air missile was fired at an Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jet for the first time. If determined that the Russians were the ones behind the attack, it would mark a significant escalation between Israel and Russia, where diplomatic relations between the country had been strained due to being on opposing sides with Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported the incident last Monday, where S-300 missiles were fired at Israeli fighter jets last Friday. Israeli news outlet Channel 13 reported that these missiles posed no threat to the F-16s as there was no locking of the battery radars on the planes.

Regardless, it still poses more complications for Russia and Israel, where tensions had risen due to Russia’s bombing of the Babi Yar in Ukraine and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s claim that the Jews were also widely anti-Semites.

A two-ship of Israeli Air Force F-16s from Ramon Air Base, Israel, head out to the Nevada Test and Training Range, July 17 during Red Flag Exercise 09-4 (Master Sergeant Kevin J. Gruenwald, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source:
A two-ship of Israeli Air Force F-16s from Ramon Air Base, Israel, head out to the Nevada Test and Training Range on July 17, 2019, during Red Flag Exercise 09-4 (Master Sergeant Kevin J. Gruenwald, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

SOFREP previously reported on this incident. An Italian television presenter asked Lavrov about Russia’s so-called special military operation in Ukraine, where they aimed to “denazify” the country as Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish.

“So what if Zelensky is Jewish?” he said. “When they say, ‘What sort of Nazification is this if we are Jews,’ well, I think that Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it does not mean anything,” he explained.

“For a long time now, we’ve been hearing the wise Jewish people say that the biggest anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.”

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that those lies about the Jews being responsible for the Holocaust had to stop as these were being used to score “political points.”

“The aim of such lies is to blame the Jews themselves for the most terrible crimes in history that were committed against them, thus freeing from responsibility the oppressors of Israel,” the Israeli Prime Minister said.

As a result, Israel ramped up their military support for Ukraine, announcing that it would send an unidentified number of weapons in “substantial quantities.”

So Who Was Responsible For The Attack?

It is not uncommon to hear Israel conducting operations against Syria, so it was not surprising that Israeli media did state that Israeli fighter jets deployed to Masyaf, Syria, was conducting airstrikes against Syrian military-industrial infrastructure as per Channel 13. The Russian Ministry of Defense reported that these Israeli F-16s fired 22 missiles targeting a base believed to be in use by Iranian forces and Syrian militias that are armed by them. The Russians stated that the Israeli jets did not enter Syrian air space to attack these military installations, which opens the possibility that the S-300 missile was fired towards or into Israeli airspace.

“The Air Defense Forces in the Syrian Arab Republic were able to down 16 missiles and a UAV Israel used in the attack,” Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria deputy chief Oleg Zhuravlyov said.

Due to the attack, some three Syrian soldiers and two civilians were killed, with another two Syrian soldiers incurring injuries. In another report, five people were reportedly killed, with another seven injured. Satellite imagery taken after the attack reveals that the targets, notably an underground facility, had been completely destroyed. Along with this, a 5-man crew of a Pantsir missile-defense system was killed.

S-300 missile system (Jonj7490, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source:
S-300 missile system (Jonj7490CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Usually, Israel would inform Russia ahead of time that the former would be conducting airstrikes or operations in Syria to avoid conflict with Russian forces in the area. This is because Russia and Israel have agreed upon a deconfliction mechanism as Russia is a known ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Essentially, that means Russia doesn’t attack Israelis conducting operations in Syria upon informing the Russians, and the Israelis don’t attack them and vice-versa.

That being said, who was then responsible for the attack? The Russians supplied Syria with 4 S-300 batteries in 2018. This was because Syrian forces accidentally shot down an Il-20 Russian plane during an Israeli Air Strike in Latakia. Despite this, the Russians still blamed the Israelis for the incident because Syria needed Russia’s approval to fire their S-300s.

It is unclear who really has control over the S-300 systems, but it was believed in the past that Russia did (or does) control launches, even if they had already given the systems to Syria due to the need for approval.

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Regardless, it is the first time that an S-300 missile was fired on Israeli aircraft. But it is also important to note that Syria has fired other missiles targeting Israeli planes, being unsuccessful in shooting any of them down. Even if they had the S-300, Israelis, who are well-known for their electronic warfare systems, may have already studied the missile system and figured out a way to jam it so that they could not be targeted.

Israel reserves the right to defend its forces from attack. Further attacks by Russian-made and perhaps even Russian manned S-300 systems would result in Israeli warplanes shooting back in self-defense or specifically targeting them in future raids into Syria. This would end the Israeli-Russian Deconflict agreement between the two countries and widen the conflict considerably.

S-300s are definitely threats to Israel’s aircraft. However, Israeli pilots have had significant training with S-300s, notably with Greek forces to learn how to fight against them. Plus, Israel has very sophisticated electronic warfare systems that are domestically produced. So it is not only capable of evading the S-300 but also hunting them down and killing them if need be. If it is determined that Russia did try to shoot down Israeli fighter jets as a way of intimidating Israel, a possible response from the Israeli Government would be to increase its military support to Ukraine further, adding to Russia’s myriad of challenges in Donbas.