(CNSNews.com) – It’s been even more strained than usual these past few days in Syria, where the Assad regime on Sunday warned Israel of retaliation after Israeli jets targeted Syrian tanks in response to mortar shells from Syria landing on Israeli soil.
The regime accused Israel of bombing a Syrian army position “in a desperate attempt to support terrorist groups and raise their flagging morale.” That’s in line with claims of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies that Israel and the U.S. are clandestinely supporting “terrorists” among the rebel groups engaged in the Syrian conflict.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) action made clear that his country was “not willing to accept a trickle or spillover of fire from any front, and we will respond forcefully to any shooting at our territory.”
Two days before the Israeli action, Russian Navy vessels in the Mediterranean launched six cruise missiles at what the defense ministry said were Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) targets inside Syria, the latest use of advanced weaponry in an increasingly dangerous theater of war.
Although the Kalibr missiles purportedly hit terrorist positions, the show of strength was likely directed as much at the United States and the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
Days before, Moscow’s defense ministry had warned the U.S. that it would treat its aircraft over Syria “as air targets,” after a U.S. military jet for the first time shot down an Assad regime aircraft that had dropped bombs near U.S. partner forces in the east of the country.
“[A]ll kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets,” the ministry said in the unprecedented warning.
About two-thirds of Syrian territory lies “west of the Euphrates,” including the area where U.S. troops are training local forces to tackle ISIS – and where the U.S. at least twice in the last month bombed forces loyal to the Assad regime after they encroached on the area.
The Russian threat was accompanied by the suspension of a U.S.-Russia “de-confliction” communication channel, designed to avoid accidents or conflict in airspace where both Russian and U.S.-led coalition planes are operating.
It’s not the first time Russia has suspended the communication channel. Last April it did so after President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase after accusing the regime of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province. The channel was restored a month later.
Russia deploys S-300 and S-400 surface-to-air missiles in Syria – systems designed to protect military bases and infrastructure against attack by enemy aircraft. Last fall a Russian defense ministry spokesman in a veiled threat to the U.S. warned that the S-300 and S-400 systems have ranges that “may prove a surprise to any unidentified flying object.”
Adding to the current tensions in Syria, on the same day as the plane shootdown, Iran reportedly fired surface-to-surface ballistic missiles at ISIS positions inside Syria, in support of its ally in Damascus. It was the first time Iran had launched missiles at a target beyond its borders since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.