Will Russia-Israel ties suffer after downing of Il-20 military plane off Syrian coast?

RT – Moscow and Tel Aviv had long enjoyed fairly good ties despite the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, but they are now at risk as Russia blames Israel for the downing its warplane off Syrian coast and the crew’s death.

Although the plane was technically shot down by a Syrian missile, Russia made it clear who it blames in the tragedy, saying that Israeli pilots used the Russian Il-20 as a cover.

The Middle East historically remained a place of bitter rivalries. Tension grew increasingly high after the Arab Spring brought more havoc to an already complex region, riddled with colliding interests and clashing ambitious of various actors, large and small. Nevertheless, Russia and Israel had always managed to keep good relations.

This year alone President Vladimir Putin met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three times, and every time the media didn’t get much details from closed-door discussions. Through delicate behind-the-scenes diplomacy Moscow maintained a close, working relations with Israel. The fact that it’s one of US closest allies was never an issue for Moscow. Russia itself kept developing ties with Turkey and Iran, Israel’s arch-nemesis, while managing to address Israel’s concerns too.

For Russia, Israel is not only an important, geopolitical partner with alleged nuclear capabilities, situated in the heart of the world’s most turbulent region. It’s also home of about 1.3 million expats from post-Soviet countries. This large diaspora plays a significant role for Russia when it tailors its approach to Tel Aviv.

Even the war in Syria, where Israel – in hopes of curbing Iranian influence – supported and armed controversial anti-government militants, didn’t result in a serious crisis in relations with Russia.

Over the course of the conflict, the IDF had conducted numerous airstrikes against targets in Syria and even launched missiles at Syrian jets. Each attack was strongly condemned by both Syria and Russia who had been pointing out that any military incursion into the country without the government’s and UN’s approval is illegal.

But the raid on Latakia and the collateral damage in a form of a downed Russian military plane can inflict grave damage on the relations between the states. Israel stands firmly against the strengthening of the Turkish or Iranian grip in the region, so its recent actions may be an attempt to remind everyone that the Syrian crisis has other stakeholders involved. Especially, since just the day before the tragic incident with the Russia plane Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyp Erdogan reached a settlement on the situation around Idlib, the last militant stronghold beyond the control of the Syrian government.