Correction: In my post yesterday, I mistakenly referred to the embattled leader of Syria as the “ophthalmologist Dr. Abbas” on more than one occasion. Of course, I meant “Dr. Assad”. It may have been the late hour of the evening here in Texas, but I assure you, dear periodic reader, I know my despotic dictators.
Since the Iranian drone intrusion across the Israeli border, several things have become abundantly clear.
The drone that was destroyed by the Apache helicopter was one of the copies of the American RQ-170 stealth drones that the Iranians reverse engineered. The drone was captured in Afghanistan by hacking into its GPS system and tricking it into believing that it was landing at its home airfield.
Attack on Tiyas Air Force Base
Apparently, we now know that some number of these drone copies were based and dispatched from the Tiyas Air Force facility in central Syria where airspace is controlled by Russia and whatever remains of the Syrian Air Force. That area extends to the Euphrates River where the Americans have advised the Russians not to intrude.
Israel is notoriously tight-lipped when confirming or denying military operations. I have no quarrel with this. But in this specific case, there were allusions provided for the consumption of very targeted parties.
One of the raids conducted was against “Iranian control systems” in Syria that sent the drone. The Washington Post reports that eight Israeli fighter jets struck the Tiyas Air Force facility, manned by Iranian and IRGC forces. Residents of Damascus report hearing loud explosions and the response of anti-aircraft batteries.
Brig. Gen. Bar admitted publicly that one of the objectives of the response to the Iranian intrusion was to inflict “significant harm to the Syrian Air Force’s defenses” including “anti-aircraft batteries purchased in recent deals [with the Russians].”
It might have been these very attacks which caused Vladimir Putin to state that, “It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian soldiers that are in the Syrian Arab Republic…to assist in the fight against terrorism.”
Attack on Anti-Aircraft Batteries
The Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system protects the Russian base at Latakia and is capable of targeting aircraft 400 km away. It is considered among the most advanced in the world. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, there are two S-400 systems in place in Syria.
Against Israel’s objections, the Russians have sold S-300 systems to Iran, and if they were willing to do that, it is reasonable to conclude there are S-300 systems in place in Syria to protect the Russians and Syrians during combat missions and chemical weapons sorties. The S-300 can track multiple aircraft simultaneously and have a range of 200 km.
Total conjecture, but it would take a system as sophisticated as an S-300 to potentially take down an F-16 and a miracle that the Israeli pilots were able to bring the plane down as deep into Israeli territory as they did. One could also logically assume that the batteries are operated by Russian military or contractors from Almaz-Antey, the manufacturer. It is reported that as many as 20 or more missiles were fired from these batteries during the Israeli counterattack.
Logic would dictate that between the surgical strikes against Hizballah-bound convoys from Damascus over the months, the paths taken by the 20 missiles fired from those batteries and the generally high level of intelligence collected, the physical location of many of those S-300 batteries could be identified and targeted.
Russians Operating Anti-Aircraft Batteries?
Surely, that must have been the suggestion in the warning issued by Putin. But that comment cannot be allowed to pass without noting that Russian forces do not have to be in the Syrian Arab Republic. They chose to place themselves in harm’s way for selfish reasons, not “to assist in the fight against terrorism”. They have been complicit in the use of chemical weapons where civilians have been present.
Further, they do not require Iran’s assistance to help secure Dr. Assad nor permanent access to bases in Latakia and Tartus. They want to sell military equipment to the Islamic Republic, help them develop their nuclear capabilities and be certain that Rosneft is deeply involved in the regeneration of their oil and gas reserves, all under the protection of the JCPOA – Barack Obama’s Iran “nuclear” deal that lifted international sanctions.
I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again: hovering over all of this is the wildly unpredictable Donald Trump. He has already “spoken out” about his disgust with the deployment of chemical weapons, he has made clear that the JCPOA is fundamentally bankrupt and must be addressed by the EU or the US will withdraw, he has held the Euphrates River line even against the Russians, and his support for Israel is no longer worthy of discussion.
Perhaps Vladimir has given Iran a bit too much latitude in Syria because the Iranians are drawing him into a confrontation he can easily sidestep. He now needs to tamp things down because that better serves his purpose.