[This column has been written for the Unz Review]
Yesterday (Sept 19th), I tried to post a short commentary suggesting that before we jump to conclusions about anything, we ought to wait for the fact to come out. But to no avail. The chorus of “Putin is a doormat!!”, “bomb Israel!!” and similar inanities is carrying on, louder than ever. Reading that crazy nonsense, I wanted to toss in a slogan, something like “Jew-haters and Putin-haters – unite!”. But then I realized that it would be futile because they have already united…
My friend Andrei Martyanov has tried to bring some logic and sanity into this pandemonium which I posted here (in spite of not normally doing reposts). Well, at the risk of being called a “gatekeeper” or a “cryto-Zionist”, I have decided to also try once more to bring this discussion into the realm of sanity, facts and logic.
First, let me start by a very simple and primitive question:
Why in the world has nobody considered that the Israelis might have truly screwed-up?
Seriously, I mean it. Unless you belong to the type of folks who believe that the Israelis are exceptionally crafty, smart and quasi infallible (there are such folks amongst both Jew-lovers and, more surprisingly, Jew-haters), this is a legitimate question, no?
What do we know for sure as of right now (Sept 20th)? We know that the Israelis did not give enough warning time to the Russians, which is in direct violation of an agreement between Israel and Russia. Do we know that they did it deliberately? No, we don’t. We really don’t.
Anybody with any military experience will tell you that what is known in the USA as FUBAR, SNAFU and “cluster****” is something all militaries do on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Israelis have had terrible screw-ups many, many times. Just a summary of all the screw-ups of the famous (and much over-rated) Mossad would take pages and include many outright embarrassing incidents (for a good laugh, just look at the inept Israeli attempt at assassinating Khaled Meshal!). So why is everybody assuming that the Israelis carefully planned the whole thing?
Next, let’s assume that this is simply the typical case of Israeli arrogance (not a myth!) and that they decided to inform the Russians as late as possible. Does that at all entail that the maneuver of the Israeli F-16s pilots to seek cover from the S-200 missile was something they had planned in advance? Does anybody bother to look at the actual (as opposed to Hollywood) record of the Israeli Air Force during past wars when they were actually challenged by a reasonably capable air defense? There is a detailed discussion (in Russian) about this here which can be summarized like this: as soon as the Israelis start losing aircraft their martial prowess rapidly vanishes. Now please recall this: the Israelis have had recent losses, some admitted, some denied, but there is no doubt that they are tense and very concerned. Bottom line: I would fully expect the Israeli pilots to freak out and seek cover as soon as they are told by their warning system that they are being painted by a radar in tracking mode (the S-200 has a semi-active radar homing guidance system). If that is the case, and I am not saying that this is the only possibility, then the fault is of the Israeli pilots, not of their commanders or the Israeli state as a whole. Yes, the command responsibility is the one of the state, but not the guilt for having engaged in such an evasive maneuver (besides, knowing the price placed by Israeli on goyim lives, this would be just so typical, would it not…)
At this point, I need to ask another question: what would the Israelis gain from shooting down the Il-20? They sure ain’t gonna frighten the Russians (Russian military don’t scare easy) and the Il-20 will be replaced. Scaring the Iranians or Hezbollah? Forget it – not happening. Maybe there was a real lucrative target that they destroyed? Yes, maybe, be so far we don’t know anything about this. So what would be the point?
Then the “sister question”: what would the Israelis risk by deliberately shooting down a Russian EW aircraft? Well, in theory, they would risk having their aircraft shot down and their airbases engaged with Russian missiles. That is highly unlikely, I will admit, and the Israelis probably understand the Russians very well (many of them being from Russia). But could they be sure that the local commanders would not order an immediate retaliation (as their current rules of engagement do authorize them to!)? Let me remind everybody that this Spring, the USA was not so sure at all, and following the words of the Russian ambassador that “not only missiles but their launchers would be destroyed” the USN and Air Force decided to shoot as little as possible and from as far as possible. As for the British sub, its captain decided to cancel the planned missile strike entirely (they were being shadowed by two Russian subs). Seems to me that the potential risks of that kind of operation would be pretty high, while the potential rewards rather unclear.
Those who insist that this was a deliberate Israeli act need to come up with a halfway credible explanation not only for how this was done, but also why this was done.
Now, like many others, I despise the Israeli racist, genocidal rogue state with all my heart. But that does not prevent me from being capable of imagining a scenario in which the Israelis simply screwed-up. Believe it or not, but my disgust for Zionist ideology does not at all entail a boundless belief in some Israeli infallibility.
Finally, let look at this: today (Sept 20th) an IDF delegation led by Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin is in Moscow. Also participating in the trip are the Head of the Foreign Relations Division, Brig.-Gen. Erez Meisel and other officers from the Intelligence, Air Force and Operations Divisions. Does anybody believe that all these officers went to Moscow just to thumb their noses at the Russians? Or maybe they all traveled to Moscow to present some totally non-credible excuses which will only infuriate the Russians further?
My guess is that they have something exculpatory (at least in part) to show.
Putin-haters and Jew-haters (united, of course!) will immediately declare that the Israelis went to Moscow to pressure Putin into not giving in into the (very real) public outrage and calls for retaliatory measures. To this I will very simply reply: rest assured that there is a very powerful pro-Zionist 5th column in Russia which is already putting the maximal amount of pressure on the Kremlin and there is no need at all to send top IDF officials to do that (especially on Yom Kippur!).
This is probably due to my messy writing style, but very often when I say “A” some folks clearly hear “B” (or even “non-A”!), so with them in mind, I will be very very clear and spell it out: I am not saying that the Israelis did not deliberately shoot down the Il-20 and I am not saying that the Israelis are not responsible for the resulting loss of life and equipment.
What I am saying is that Putin, in contrast to the hordes of self-appointed armchair strategists, does have to look at all the possible options before deciding what to do next. Because even if we assume that the Israelis are irresponsible, arrogant, evil and reckless (which they are), this is not a reason for the Russians to emulate them or start a war.
If the Russians conclude that the Israelis did it deliberately, I will support a strike on Israeli air bases. If the Russians conclude that the Israelis cannot be trusted to abide by any agreements (which I think is indisputable), then I think that the Russians should declare an air exclusion zone over the Russian forces (a 100km radius or so). I also think that it is high time to keep a pair MiG-31BMs on 24/7 combat air patrol high over Syria (they can come quite close to replacing a much more expensive and vulnerable A-50U AWACS).
At this time (Sept 20th 20:37 GMT) all they have announced is that ““both sides emphasized the importance of the states’ interests and the continued implementation of the deconfliction system”. If that is all that the Russians decide, then I will find it wholly inadequate and I will predict a further surge in frustration against not only the government, but against Putin himself. But, for the time being, we need to wait and see what the Russian investigation will reveal. Only then can we begin cheering Putin or calling him names.
There is also this possibility: the Russians would decide on an air exclusion zone and tell the Israelis, but both sides would decide to keep this secret in order for Israel to save face (because if the Russians declare an air exclusion zone, this will create a safe heaven for Hezbollah and all the other militias which would be a political disaster for Bibi Netanyahu). So we might never find out.
Finally, I want to add one more thing which is rarely, if ever, mentioned.
The S-200 is a pretty old air defense system. We also know that it does not have a Russian IFF. However, the Russians have declared several times that the Russian air defense network and the Syrian one were integrated. This is what best explains, at least in part, the very high number of US cruise missiles intercepted in April. The problem is that the way the S-200 (and most modern air defense systems) works is that the S-200 is fully integrated into a larger air defense network administered by automated air defense management systems which is operated by a higher echelon air defense command. This means that the Syrian air defense crew did not simply detect the incoming missiles and fire off one of their own. At the very least, this decision was taken by a higher echelon Syrian air defense command. Now we know that the time was extremely short and, hence, the Russian air defense personnel might not have had the time to take protective action, especially not when dealing with a large, slow and vulnerable moving EW aircraft (the fact that this aircraft flew un-escorted is definitely a Russian mistake!). Still, we know that the Russians have many early warning capabilities which the Syrians do not have (AWACS, space based, shipborne radars, over-the-horizon radars, etc.) and there is a pretty decent chance that somebody could have done something to prevent what happened. True, since the Israelis and Russians had an agreement, the Russians therefore classified the Israelis as “non-threat”, but it does not take a genius to understand that four Israeli F-16 flying towards the Latakia Governorate are up to no good and that this warrants immediately going on full alert.
So this might be the reason why Putin spoke of “tragic circumstances”: there might be more blame to pass around than just piling it all up on the just the Israelis. By the way, even if true, none of this would in any way exculpate the Israelis for the very simple reason that had the Israelis warned the Russians on time this entire tragedy might have been avoided even if the prime culprits are cowardly Israeli pilots, less than competent Syrian air defense crews or too trusting Russians. By “warning” the Russians just 1 minute before the attack the Israelis created an environment in which such a tragedy simply had to happen. This is why I think that no matter what the Russian investigation find, anything short of an air exclusion zone over the Russian forces would constitute an inadequate response: the fundamental Israeli responsibility is already established. But what is still missing are the (important) details.
One more thing in conclusion: the last time the Russians made a deal with the Israelis, it worked remarkably well, let’s not forget that. The Syrian forces re-took control of their southern border without the Israelis doing anything meaningful to stop them. Let also remember that at the beginning of this war the usual chorus of Putin-haters was already screaming that “Putin disarmed and betrayed Syria!!” when the Russians removed the (useless) chemical weapons from Syria (thereby stopping an imminent US attack). When the Russians then proceeded to single-handedly save Syria from the “good” and “bad” terrorists, those who were screaming about betrayal remained silent and never admitted that they were wrong.
The truth is that no matter what Putin does, we can expect the chorus of Putin-haters to bellow at the top of their lungs “Putin betrayed X” (replace “X” with whatever you want). Yes, they are stupid and tedious, and nothing will stop them (I also suspect that a lot of that nonsense is machine generated, at least judging by the kind of repetitive crap the moderators constantly intercept on my blog). But for the rest of us, we need to remain critical of both Putin and Russian policies, but we need to do so by logically processing well-established facts, not by just waiting for whatever pretext to resume the usual mantra.
UPDATE: I have listened with great interest to the MoD briefing this morning and it rather obvious that the Israelis offered no convincing explanations to the Russians who spoke of “criminal negligence“, “misleading Israel information” and that “the blame for the Russian Il-20 aircraft tragedy lies entirely with the Israeli Air Force“. The Russian military has concluded that the Israeli actions were “a clear violation of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements” and that “the military leadership of Israel either has no appreciation for the level of relations with Russia, or has no control over individual commands or commanding officers who understood that their actions would lead to tragedy“. There is nothing at all in the MoD briefing which would in any way excuse the Israelis and, even more importantly, nothing which could leave any excuse for Putin not to take meaningful action in response. And, just to make things worse, the Israelis have not only denied any wrongdoing or mistakes, but have even added that they won’t change their policies in Syria (these guys always double-down).
In summary, we have a typical case of gross incompetence by the Israelis, followed by their usual chutzpah when caught. It will be very interesting and very telling to see what kind of measures Putin will order next. Personally, I can only repeated that in my opinion: that, as a bare minimum, Russia ought to declare an air exclusion zone of about 100km around her forces in Syria and declare that any Israeli aircraft entering that zone, or firing a missile into it, will be immediately shot down. Russia also should increase the number of Su-30SM/Su-35S in Khmeimim and place a pair of MiG-31BM (possibly based in Iran) on 24/7 combat air patrol high over Syria. If Putin fails to act this time, this will be the most damning evidence of the power of the pro-Zionist 5th column in Russia. We shall soon find out.