A Joint Patrol Mission Inside Syria


Photo source: Daily Sabah

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

The Russian defence ministry released a statement in January 2022 about its intentions of joint patrol mission with Syrian military pilots along Syria’s borders. Fighter jets, fighter bomber jets, and early morning and control aircraft were involved in the joint patrol exercises. The route of this mission went from Golan Heights to southern Syria, and then from the Euphrates River up to northern Syria. 

For Russia, these patrols are about solidarity with the Assad regime, and Moscow’s desire to help Damascus pre-emptively impede threats. Moscow is also helping Damascus regain control over lands which are occupied by the Syrian opposition. 

According to Adam Lammon, a junior fellow at the Centre for the National Interest, joint air patrols are also intended to increase the Syrian military’s independent capabilities, and they will help assert Syrian sovereignty. These exercises will also reduce Russia’s operational burden inside Syria.

Paul Iddon in Forbes also gave a subtle analysis and wrote that one reason for the patrol may have been Russians estimating that a break in winter weather would help Israel launch an attack in Syria, and thus wanted an opportunity to thwart such a move. Another reason Russia may have chosen to patrol along Golan could have been to convey its annoyance with Israel’s two airstrikes against Syria's western port of Latakia in December 2021 and warn Israel of any such future strikes inside Syria. Israel, which has carried out an air campaign against Iran-linked targets in Syria for about a decade now, had even bombed the port city of Latakia in 2018, which led to heightened military escalation with Russia, at that point in time, given Moscow’s military presence there. They also bombed Latakia in 2014, and 2013, before the Russian escalation happened.

Israel sees these joint patrol developments as alarming, and their military officers have been in talks with Damascus to defuse tensions. Israel regularly conducts airstrikes against Hezbollah positions, and Iran-allied militias inside Syria even now. In October 2021, Naftali Bennett made a provocative statement when he said that Israel would keep Golan Heights, which it captured during the 1967 war, even if international views on Damascus changed. In his speech, he also pledged to double the size of the Israeli population in the Golan Heights, which is equal to the Druze Arab community. At the same time in a meeting with Putin, in October 2021, he had the audacity to say that the relations between Israel and Russia were important, due to one million Russian speakers in Israel. He, in fact, was congratulated by Putin when he became Israel’s prime minister. It was back in 2015, Israel and Russia managed a de-conflicting mechanism to prevent any clashes between them in Syria in the coming time. Those clashes happened, anyhow. At the same time, Iran and Syria testify that Moscow always has not been sharing their views, as Russia now only ‘occasionally’ condemns Israel’s regular strikes as destabilising and illegal. Hence, these joint drills are not serving their desired purpose. 

Russia also realises that if it keeps good relations with Israel, it will face fewer confrontations with the United States, in relation to Syria. It will ultimately irk the Assad regime.

When it comes to operational command of several air defence systems such as S-300, which were given to Syria by Russia, there is reluctance from Moscow on their usage, hinting that they control these systems, should any escalation happen between Israel and Syria.

The view from Tehran is that they favour these joint patrols because this exercise will reduce Damascus’s reliance on Iran. 

In the past, Russians have been present in Syria since 2015, and they helped turned the tide in Assad’s favour. Moscow sees its presence inside Syria as a potential thorn in NATO’s southern flank.

Russia is also showing a desire to expand its military exercises in Syria in close proximity to the US military. According to an Oped by Anton Mardasov in Al-Monitor, more than twenty aircraft and helicopters were moved from Khmeimim to the airfields in Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor, and A-50 AWACS aircraft controlled the actions of aviation on December 25, 2021. This will heighten the conflict with the US, rather than ameliorating it through the diplomatic mantle which they want to pursue. However, Russia cannot deploy thousands of military personnel in a short time inside Syria. They lack sufficient ocean-going warships and rather have a modest fleet of military transport aircraft. Despite that, it shows that Kremlin is trying to demonstrate that the grouping of troops in Syria is more than just a force to display the Russian flag in the Mediterranean, and cover troop shifts to Venezuela and mercenaries’ projection to African countries. Joint patrols are just one of its standard military strategies.

Nevertheless, foreign air forces continue to operate over Syrian airspace for various reasons, and there is not much the Syrian air force can do about it. Their planes have been visibly worn after decades of operation. In the recent past, the United States, Turkey and Israel have shot these planes with precision.







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