Dedicated to my Guru Mr. Ron Ben-Yishai, a true legend of war journalism, with deep respect and best wishes.
Myths and truth behind reports of the Russian MoD about the IDF airstrikes in Syria.
“The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.”, Confucius.
Since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, Israel has routinely carried out raids in Syria, mostly targeting government positions and allied Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces and weapons convoys.
Israel rarely confirms strikes in Syria, however, the IDF has said it hit about 50 targets in the war-ravaged country last year, without providing details.
As far as is known, Tehran continues to maintain significant drone forces at this airbase, giving them dangerously easy access to the Israeli border and raising the risk of escalation.
In the early hours of April 9, 2018, local news agencies reported a raid on the T-4 (Tiyas) air base in the western Syrian province of Homs. Initially, some believed that the airstrike may have been a U.S. response to the Assad regime’s reported weekend use of chemical weapons in Douma, but Washington denied involvement, and the Russian MoD said the attack was conducted by two Israeli F-15s. According to Moscow, the jets fired eight standoff missiles from Lebanese airspace; five of them were intercepted by Syrian air defenses, while the other three hit targets within the base. Fourteen people were reportedly killed, at least seven of them Iranian.
Besides housing Syrian and Russian air forces, the T-4 base also hosts an element from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unmanned aerial vehicle unit. In fact, one of the confirmed Iranian fatalities was Col. Mehdi Dehghan Yazdeli, a commander from the IRGC Aerospace Force’s little-known but very active and heavily defended Shahid Karimi UAV base, which shares its 3,000-meter runway with Kashan Airport 190 kilometers south of Tehran. Iranian officials also identified the other fatalities: Akbar Zavar Jenatti (from Yazdeli’s unit), Ammar Mousavi (from an unknown IRGC unit), Morteza Basiripour (a 1st lieutenant in a South Khorasan IRGC unit), Hamed Rezai (unknown IRGC unit), Hojatollah Nochamani (unknown IRGC unit), and Mehdi Lotfi Niasar (from the Qom Basij).
Despite heavy losses, Iran is fanatically and stubbornly concentrating IRGC resources in the Palmyra region, threatening the security of Israel, which is equally persistent in trying to eliminate the growing threat.
Since 20th July, 2021, the Russian MoD has regularly reported about almost complete interceptions of Israeli AGM munitions by the Syrian IADS using Russian-made Pantsyr-S and Buk-M2. This report created a world press speculation that Russia has “run out of patience” with Israel in Syria and is planning a shift in its policies toward Israeli sorties over the country, launched by the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat has cited an unnamed “well-informed” Russian source as saying that following talks with Washington, Moscow had got the impression that “Washington does not welcome the continuous Israeli raids,” and thus believes it has the freedom to act more aggressively to thwart them.
Nevertheless, the Russian reports on outstanding successes of the Russian-made short and medium AD systems operated by the SyADF miraculously coincided with the preparation and holding of the Russian military air show MAKS-21 and Army 2021 International Military-Technical Forum. Rosoboronexport JSC (part of the Rostec State Corporation) has held more than 70 negotiations with representatives of 35 countries during the Army 2021 International Military-Technical Forum.
“As a result of negotiations with foreign partners, Rosoboronexport has signed about 20 contract documents totaling over €2 billion,” said Alexander Mikheev, Director General of Rosoboronexport. Rosoboronexport is conducting pre-contract work on the Pantsir-S1M with 10 countries of the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.
However, on 9th Sept of 2021, Rear Admiral Vadim Kulit, deputy chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria, told reporters that the Russian-made “Pantsir” SAM systems of the SyADF has destroyed eight out of 12 missiles that had been launched by Israel at the T-4 airfield in the Homs region on Friday, October 8.
Anyhow, the attached satellite images show the affected SyADF positions and the western mouth of the runway as a result of this airstrike.
On October 14, Rear Admiral Vadim Kulit said that Syrian air defenses did not engage Israeli jets that reportedly carried out a new strike almost in the same area. “Between 23:35 and 23:39 [local time] on October 13, four Israeli Air Force F-16 tactical jet fighters entered the Syrian airspace near the Al-Tanf area in the Homs province, occupied by the US, and attacked the phosphate ore processing plant near Palmyra. Moreover, one communications tower was destroyed. One Syrian serviceman was killed and three were injured in the airstrike. The plant sustained material damage, the Syrian military command decided not to engage air defense systems, because two civilian aircraft, en route from Dubai to Beirut and from Baghdad to Damascus, were present in the air defense area of effect.” he said.
In fact, at least 5 separate locations appear to have been struck during the reported airstrike, and air traffic monitoring systems show that no civil aircraft crossed Syria between 11:35 pm and 11:39 pm.
The “Qatari Royal Villa” believed to be a military base of the IRGC affiliated Fatemiyoun Brigade is among these targets too, several structures were targeted.
It also seems obvious that it is quite difficult to repel airstrikes near Palmira on September 13 by the suppressed Air Defense during the SEAD mission reportedly carried out by the IAF on September 8.
The author assumes that the attached image does not reflect the full picture of the SEAD battle over the T-4, since these Soviet-era air defense systems, even being modernized by Russia and Belarus few years ago, are not capable to down the AGM munition with low radar cross-sections (RCS). Presumably, the Russian-made “Pantsir-S1E” and “Buk-M2E/M1-2S” delivered in 2011 were involved too.
On 21st October, 2021, the US CENTCOM confirmed the attack described as a “deliberate and coordinated” one that appears to have used both unmanned aircraft and indirect fire on the Al-Tanf military base in Syria’s southwestern Rif Dimashq governorate where US forces are deployed, saying there were no casualties among American forces. The attack which comes a week after pro-Iran fighters vowed a ‘harsh’ response to an alleged Israeli-US joint strike simultaneously originating from there against IRGC resources deployed around Palmira as well as the Imam Ali base of the Iran-backed militias reportedly targeted by an unindicated UAV near the Syrian border city of Abu Kamal on 8th October, but this attack was ignored by the RuMoD report.
This latest report issued by the Russian MoD in a manner of the “Cold War” propaganda reminds the accusations issued by them that the Israeli pilots used Russian Il-20 as cover to evade anti-aircraft missiles on September 17, 2018. President Putin and MoD Shoygu were fed with these false accusations issued by the Russian high ranking militaries to cover their faults as well as to please Rostec State Corporation and create a reason to ultimately arm their Syrian partners with the Russian-made S-300PMU2 the delivery and the subsequent combat inaction of which was predicted in advance by the author.
Amidst these reports, everyone can ask themselves if the Russian MoD is a credible partner and what goals they are pursuing while the political leadership of Russia claims to be a trusted intermediary between Syria and democratic countries, between Iran and the International Community as well as in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Are some of the Russian military authorities trying to play their own game, or are they just playing the role of the bad cops under the current Russian political leaders?
On October 18, 2021, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Iran, Mohammad Baqeri visited his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov to boost military cooperation and convene a “joint military commission” in Tehran within the next three months in order to discuss defense and security cooperation. Major General Baqeri, meanwhile, said that his talks with his Russian counterpart were on various issues, including Iran’s membership at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Israel’s terrorist acts in Syria, the Caucasus region and Karabakh ceasefire, and Afghanistan and the need for establishment of an all-encompassing government there.
Anyhow, Russia and Iran always avoid the word “ally”, and official statements always use the phrase “strategic partner”. “Both sides are very suspicious of each other. But in general, the countries proceed from pragmatic considerations, and therefore cooperation only deepens every year. In fact, Iran and Russia are forced partners, but their ties are becoming more and more strong, at least in politics, for sure,” the RuSVR’s analyst said. The deep suspicion toward Russia among the Iranian leadership was illustrated in April 2021 in a leaked recording in which the former Iranian Foreign Minister accused Russia of attempting to prevent the nuclear deal in 2015. At present, the multi-vector foreign policy based on equality, respect and drive towards a balance of interests and mutual benefits, promoted by the RuMoFA Lavrov considers both Iran and Israel as their practically equal strategic partners who will never turn into allies due to the strategic distrust and difference in worldviews with Russia.
The Israeli INSS’s expert thinks that the partnership between Israel and Russia alongside conflicting interests should be continued, strengthen the lateral communication channels (beneath the leadership echelon), and exercise caution to avoid injury to Russian soldiers and assets in Syria. Russian policy in the Middle East posed, poses and will pose a challenge to Israeli national security interests. But dialogue with Moscow and political maneuvering between Moscow and the West has proven successful in offsetting the dangers to Israel and cultivating new possibilities.
Undoubtedly, the IDF’s proven combat ability to suppress and destroy any modern Integrated Air Defense Systems of the enemy in the past, present and future is still one of the crucial factors in Geopolitical Diplomacy.
“I am certain that our joint efforts will ensure a further buildup of the entire complex of mutually beneficial Russian-Israeli ties. This undoubtedly meets the fundamental interests of our friendly peoples and works for lasting peace, security, and stability in the Middle East,” said President Putin on the eve of his meeting with Israeli PM Naftali Bennet on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.