Optimists who think Vladimir Putin is going to work with Israel and the U.S. to push Iran out of Syria may have to think again. Russia announced that it plans to send its highly capable S-300 missile system to its client regime in Syria within two weeks.
The Kremlin justified the decision after Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian reconnaissance plane last week, killing 15 Russians on board. The Syrian missiles were defending against Israeli planes that were bombing Iranian targets in Syria. The S-300 system is less likely to target Russian aircraft by mistake, but it is also far more lethal and will be a major threat to Israeli aircraft.
Israel is frequently sending planes into Syrian airspace to slow Iran’s relentless efforts to establish a military presence. Bashar Assad’s regime doesn’t object because Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Russia helped turn the tide of the Syrian civil war. Iran wants permanent bases for weapons and militia fighters to extend its imperial reach and directly threaten Israel when the next inevitable war begins. Israel can’t tolerate that buildup, especially with Hezbollah in nearby Lebanon having an arsenal of missiles estimated to be as large as 150,000.
The U.S. and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been trying to persuade Mr. Putin to distance the country from Iran, to little effect. Israel will no doubt try to avoid accidents that harm Russian forces, but the Jewish state has no choice but to prevent a Revolutionary Guard beachhead on its border. The S-300 sale is one more indication that Mr. Putin wants to make trouble for the U.S. and its allies.