image Photo: Reuters

Russia, Syria hold joint aerial drill

Both countries’ defense ministries released video footage of military aircraft simulating exercises aimed at repelling enemy airstrikes.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

Announcement of the joint aerial maneuvers came just hours after Syria accused Israel of targeting positions south of Damascus, causing material damage but no casualties. An unidentified Syrian military official was cited by state media as saying that Israeli warplanes launched several missiles from the skies above the Golan Heights before midnight Monday, the majority of which were claimed to have been intercepted by aerial defenses in the Arab Republic.

According to new information on the strike reported by the Israel Hayom daily, a substantive weapons cache of precision guided munitions belonging to Iran and its Shi’ite proxies was among the targets. If IDF was in fact responsible, the pinpoint attack indicated the extent to which Jerusalem’s intelligence has managed to infiltrate groups associated with Tehran, Damascus and other nefarious terrorists who threaten security of the Jewish State.

There was no comment on the alleged strike from the IDF. While Israel rarely confirms such missions, the country’s political and defense leaders have repeatedly stated that Iran’s presence just over the northern frontier will not be tolerated.

For the past several years, Jerusalem has acknowledged mounting hundreds of attacks on Iranian-linked targets in Syria where the Islamic Republic’s forces and proxy terror groups – including Lebanon’s Hezbollah-  have become entrenched in deployments aimed at attacking Israel while assisting Assad battle insurgents.  The Israeli Air Force has also repeatedly targeted Iranian weapons convoys en route to Hezbollah.

Syria’s Defense Ministry said the joint air strike simulation drills involved confrontation of “hostile” warplanes and unmanned drone aircraft by six Syrian MiG-23 and MiG-29 operating under cover and support from two Russian SU-35 fighter jets.

“All illusive targets were monitored and completely destroyed while aerial targets were hit at night for the first time,” said the ministry statement, adding that the warplanes carried out joint patrols along the Golan Heights and other parts of southern Syria.

According to Izvestia, the self-described ‘national newspaper’ of Russia, the participating jets took off and landed from the Khmeimim, Seikal and Dumayr airfields outside of Damascus.

The last joint drill was conducted just a week before Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. Earlier that month, Moscow deployed long-range nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets transporting state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to Syria for massive naval drills in the Mediterranean Sea.

Russian forces have been active in Syria since 2015, when they helped tip the balance of power in favor of President Bashar al-Assad in the 11-year Civil War that has killed at least half a million people.

Turkish and Syrian rebel officials have reported that the Kremlin and Assad regime have recently bolstered forces in northern Syria where it is believed that Turkey may soon launch an offensive against Kurdish fighters – just ahead of expected talks between Moscow and Ankara.