Moscow’s tone towards Israel turned hostile on Monday, April 9, after its claim that the IDF conducted an air strike on the Syrian T-4 airbase that morning. This claim was in itself a departure from the Kremlin’s longstanding line of letting Israel’s military operations pass without comment. Stepping away from this custom, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that two Israeli F-15 fighter jets carried out a guided missile air strike on the T-4 air base in Homs from Lebanese air space. Syria was said to have shot down 5 out of the 8 missiles fired, while three landed in the western part of the base. The Moscow statement stressed: “There were no Russian advisers among those injured” – 14 in all, according to some sources.
It was next announced that the Russian defense and foreign ministries asked their Israeli counterparts to provide “explanations” for air strikes on a “Syrian military facility.” And then, Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the “air strike carried out on Sunday on a Syrian air base was a dangerous development.” A few hours later, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized what it described as Israel’s “indiscriminate use of force against the civilian population” in the Gaza Strip, calling it “unacceptable.”
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources say that Moscow’s ire was prompted by five causes and more hostile steps against Israel may be coming:
- Israel’s reported military strike in Syria hit President Vladimir Putin at a highly vulnerable moment, when the US and its Western allies were holding him directly accountable for chemical weapons attacks in Syria and the United Kingdom.
- Putin never imagined that the nerve agent attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter would be tied in with allegations that the Russian-backed Assad regime was using poison gas against Syrian civilians in Douma near Damascus.
- The Russian president suspects that Israel struck the T-4 airbase, a shared Syrian-Russian-Iranian air facility, as an advance foray on behalf of the US for testing Moscow’s reaction to a larger operation. He is therefore pushing back strongly against the Israeli attack to ward off a US sequel.
- After Israel’s wide-ranging air offensive on Feb. 10, which ended in one of its F-16 jets being shot down, Putin warned Jerusalem to desist from further attacks on Syrian targets, else the Russian air force would hit back. Israel complied for two months. But then, the compulsion became pressing to take out a key Iranian target, even at the risk of Russian disfavor.
Of deepest concern to Israel now is that the Russian president may make a complete turn against Jerusalem to the extreme point of supporting a war of attrition which Syria, Iran and Hizballah are planning to wage against the Jewish state.