A recent report in Arabic media suggests that Israel has agreed to coordinate the IAF’s operations over Syria with Russia, and claims that Russia has warned Israel against conducting strikes in Syria in which Russian soldiers may be killed. Israel Matzav has the story here.
The reflexive inclination is to focus on whether this particular report is accurate, and what the narrow, immediate implications are. The big-picture implications, however, are actually much more important.
But let’s quickly address the first questions. The tone of the Arabic reporting, even in pidgin translations, is triumphalist against Israel, and we should exercise due skepticism of any particulars.
That said, the concerns reportedly raised by Russia are valid and reasonable, if Russia is going to be operating in Syria. The Arabic report is by no means unrealistic.
Russia probably did warn Israel of the grave concern it would be to Russia if an Israeli strike killed a Russian.
And the Russians could very well suggest, as a practical matter, that Israel not conduct uncoordinated air strikes in Syria from now on. Such a “suggestion” could be seen by interested partisans as a warning or an imposition on Israel, even if it was couched by Russia in the terms of a negotiating position. It wouldn’t be an open threat – but it would inherently be a veiled one.
Israel may be able to make some accommodations, even if they aren’t everything Russia suggests. If the IAF is blasting weapons convoys headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon, there might be room for avoiding Syrian territory, for the most part.
If any anti-Israel force – whether Hezbollah or another entity – is setting up firing positions north of the Golan, I don’t see Israel agreeing to ask permission from Russia to deal with that problem. Israel’s response, I have no doubt, would be: “Keep your men out of that zone, because we’re going to defend ourselves.”
That won’t be satisfactory forever, but I have no doubt the IDF and the Netanyahu government will sprint to get ahead of this problem. Fighting to defend Israel will become difficult unless the Israelis can enforce some amount of latitude in their arrangements with Russia.
That said, the long-term implications of this new condition – Russia in combat in Syria, and requiring fires coordination with other parties (the military term for deconflicting what non-enemies are shooting at) – are the real issue.