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Can Israeli jets also clash with Russian aircraft that are flying over Syria?

The furious confrontation now raging between Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recepp Erdogan has raised this nightmare in Jerusalem. A senior Israeli Air Force officer has said he does not know what caused the Turkish jet to shoot down the Russian aircraft along Turkish-Syrian border, but indicated that chances are slim this could happen between Israeli and Russian jets. Israel and Russia have been operating an online communication network to prevent such an incident. At the end of a major Israeli Air Force exercise that has been conducted over northern Israel, the IAF officer said:

      "We refrain from flying close to one another in order to prevent the pilots from having any question marks about the other's intentions. The intention is not to shoot down any Russian aircraft. Russia is not the enemy. We try to prevent any friction with the Russian aircraft, and their pilots refrain from any friction with us."

Those are wise orders in the free-for-all air operations over war-torn Syria. In fact very close to home, Russian jets have attacked rebel targets just a few hundred yards from the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. The Russian pilots are pounding anti-Assad rebel forces wherever they find them. The U.S. and its coalition partners are concentrating on Daesh, whereas Israel has a very limited policy of launching air strikes against shipments of Iranian sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon or retaliating for cross-border shelling from Syria. On this score, the IAF officer stressed:

       "We do not inform anyone in advance, nor do we request anyone's permission to operate over Syria."

Since Putin launched his military build-up two months ago, the Israeli Air Force has reportedly carried out just one raid over Syria. But the Israeli Air Force now has a new Russian threat to consider - the most advanced anti-aircraft defense in the world has now been deployed at its base near Latakia in northern Syria. It has a range of 400 kilometers that covers nearly half of Israel, Syria, and most of Iraq. Flying at a speed of 17,000 km/hour it is highly accurate and poses a grave threat to Israeli aircraft. Although the Russians have contracted to supply Iran with their S-300 system, the S-400 is top of the line.

If Israeli experts may have unraveled the secrets of the S-300, they will have a new and urgent mission to cope with. One other thing, the S-400 is said to be so top secret that they will not want it to fall into Syrian or any one else's hands.

When Prime Minister Netanyahu got wind that Putin was to launch a major military operation in support of his faltering ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Bibi hopped on a jet for an urgent meeting with Putin in the Kremlin. The Israeli leader took along IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Izenkut, and with good reason. Netanyahu realized that the emerging Russian military build-up just over the border was fraught with danger. Not that Jerusalem and Moscow are enemies - both profess to be mutual friends. But they do differ on Syrian President Bashar Assad. Putin views the Assad regime as a regional asset who provides Moscow with its only military presence to challenge the U.S.’ Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.

In addition, The Russian leader may see his Syrian adventure as some payback for America's role in the Ukraine conflict. Whatever. But from the Israeli perspective it can be said that the choice between Assad and his Hezbollah ally compared to Daesh would be like choosing between 'cholera and the plague'! Both desire to exterminate the Jewish state when they finish with each other - so let them fight it out between themselves.

But the Russians - that's a different story. Bibi realized the urgent need to set up a hotline with the Russian military command in Syria to prevent any dangerous miscalculations, like the one that has just flared between Moscow and Ankara after Turkish jets shot down a Russian aircraft flying along the Syrian-Turkish border and invaded Turkish air-space for all of seventeen seconds. Granted, Erdogan hates Assad and wants him to go while Putin views the Syrian tyrant as a strategic ally. And the incident itself was not all that accidental; Russian aircraft have been strafing Turkeman fighters, who have an ethnic tie to the Turks and have been battling Assad's forces. This has angered the volatile Erdogan, who repeatedly warned the Russians about invading his air space in order to rocket the anti-Assad rebels.

The bottom line is that the 'Russian bear' has been painfully wounded. First by the horrific bombing of its airliner over Sinai by Daesh, and now the shooting down of one of its warplanes by a Turkish jet and the killing of one pilot. Erdogan has bitten off more than he can chew this time. Putin has refused to take a conciliatory telephone call from the Turkish leader, and started making Turkey pay a painful economic price for what appears to be a reckless decision by the Turkish leader to mess with Moscow. If Erdogan believes his NATO partners will send in the cavalry and deter Putin, he is mistaken.

On the contrary, French President Hollande hit it off with the Russian leader in Moscow and came away pleased with Russia's military offensive against Daesh. Britain's David Cameron is also planning on sending RAF jets to join the fray against Daesh, and even Germany is dispatching some non-combat support aircraft for coalition missions. Obliterating Daesh is the main military objective; toppling Assad is a remote second.

Having been provoked by both Daesh and Turkey, Putin will be more determined than ever to have his way in Syria. That means that President Bashar Assad can now rest more easily. Although every now and then President Obama says Assad must go, nobody takes it very seriously. Assad may go when Putin says he will and not before. But Russia is also paying a painful price for its involvement in Syria, probably more than he expected.

Erdogan and Putin may both be bullies. And now Putin is about to teach Erdogan the first lesson of being a smart bully - never try to take on a much bigger bully!


Some of past week's most serious Palestinian attacks and some after thoughts...

  • Town of Kiryat Gat: Palestinian male stabs four Israeli civilians, including a thirteen-year-old girl, and is arrested hours later after a massive manhunt in the town. A cordon of Israeli policemen safely escorted the suspect into custody protecting him from an angry crowd.
  • Etzion bloc junction: At the hitchhiking stop a young Israeli woman was stabbed to death by Palestinian who was shot to death by IDF soldiers.
  • Kfar Adumim: Palestinian taxi driver tried, unsuccessfully, to run over a group of Israeli pedestrians and then got out to stab one Israeli - he was shot and killed.
  • West Bank: a young Palestinian woman wielding a knife starts running at an Israeli woman. An Israeli driver sees what is happening and deliberately runs into the attacker - she was shot and killed by IDF soldiers nearby.
  • Gas station on Route between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Two vehicles get into a minor collision near the bus station. A passing IDF jeep stops and the soldiers get out to see if they can be of assistance. While they have their backs turned to the gas station, a Palestinian runs from the nearby pumps and stabs one of the soldiers in the neck. He also manages to stab a female IDF officer in the hand before he is shot. Both the soldier and the attacker are rushed to hospital in Jerusalem. Both die of their wounds. The next day - three IDF officers, including a Colonel, are checking out security conditions at a checkpoint. While they are doing so a Palestinian driver deliberately runs into the three of them! They are lightly injured and the Palestinian is shot dead.
  • Jerusalem's Jaffa Road: At entrance to the open market two Palestinian girls try to stab an elderly man with scissors. It turns to be a case of mistaken identity - the man is actually a Palestinian. Security guards shoot the two girls - one dies. The man is unharmed.

All these serious attacks were perpetrated in the space of seven days. Rather than Israeli security personnel being quick on the trigger, in some cases they may have even been a little lax. For example, when a group the group of soldiers all turned their backs to the gas station nearby, or when the officers also were not on the alert when they were checking out security precautions!

Doron, the father of nineteen-year-old Cpl. Nir Mizrahi, the IDF soldier who was stabbed to death at the gas station, is a bus driver. At his son's funeral, amidst his tears at the graveside, Doron declared:

       "I am a bus driver. Seven days from now, after the seven days of ritual mourning are over, I will be back in my bus! They will not stop us! I swear I will be back at the wheel! I want everyone to know, I want Nir to know!”

And the surreal wedding, attended by several thousand people in Jerusalem, was conducted just two weeks after the father and younger brother of the bride were shot dead by Palestinian terrorists on the West Bank. Sarah Tchiya Littman was married as planned. It was a scene of both weeping and dancing - a wedding has a deep religious meaning for religious Jews, and the moving event has undoubtedly given encouragement to many Israelis, religious or not, at this this troubling time.

And I can't help wondering about people abroad, some of them Jewish, who think this is the time for them to boycott the Israeli people. Not only when the Jewish state is facing the same wave of terrorism that is paralyzing people in Paris and Brussels, and maybe even in America from what President Obama said in his Thanksgiving address. Yet they feel the need to preach to Israel about the need to make peace; this, with Daesh not thousands of miles away, but literally knocking on our door, and Hamas and Hezbollah waiting in line.

It's as if these critics, two of them are even Jewish professors are Harvard, believe that all we have to do is give peace a chance! This when the 'moderate' Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has just admitted in a TV interview, that he said no to an offer by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to give up the settlements and return to the old '67 lines including the partitioning of Jerusalem!


David Essing

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