Under Moscow’s eyes: “Khordad 15” increases possibility of Iranian-Israeli clash in Syria
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
Iran has expressed its willingness to provide the Syrian regime with the “Khordad 15” air defense missile system in order to counter the Israeli air raids in Syria, vowing that the system will be “the ghost chasing the Israeli Air Force.”
Old and new threats to send an advanced missile system and weapons to Syria, which failed to materialize before, came after an Israeli missile strike hit a security headquarters in the Kafr Souseh neighborhood of the capital, Damascus, on February 19, killing five people, which Iran denounced, denying the presence of its victims during the raid.
The decision to send the missile system was not officially issued, but it was accompanied by a threat campaigned by Iranian media, stating a new phase of the conflict between Iran and Israel on the Syrian lands, with the presence of the most prominent ally of the Syrian regime, which is Moscow.
Israel has been targeting Iranian arms supplies since 2017 to prevent Tehran from expanding its foothold in Syria and transferring more weapons to its proxy forces, while Israel does not usually acknowledge or comment on its strikes in those areas.
Defense system after the Kafr Souseh strike
On February 24, the Iranian Tasnim News Agency said, “Soon the Iranian air defense system (Khordad 15) will be the ghost chasing the Israeli Air Force in Syria because it will be in the possession of the Syrian Arab Army.”
Tasnim stated that there are other surprises regarding the military cooperation between Iran and Syria, which may be announced or remain secret, and as a result, “the Israeli enemy is facing a new phase in its existential and temporary struggle with the resistance,” according to the agency.
Iranian state television said that Iran is likely to sell surface-to-air missiles to Syria to help it strengthen its air defenses in the face of repeated Israeli air strikes, saying that “Syria needs to rebuild its air defense network and requests precision bombs for its combat aircraft.”
The announcement of the Iranian air defense system came five days after an Israeli raid targeted a security headquarters in the Kafr Souseh neighborhood of the capital, Damascus, on February 19, the official Syrian News Agency (SANA) said, killing five people, including a soldier, and wounding 15 civilians, as a preliminary outcome.
Reuters revealed on February 22 that the Israeli “attack hit an installation where Iranian officials were meeting to advance programs to develop drone or missile capabilities of Tehran’s allies in Syria.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, saying that it targeted “residential buildings in Damascus and led to the death and maiming of innocent Syrian citizens.”
The Iranian News Agency (IRNA) denied the validity of the published reports regarding the presence of Iranians among the victims of the raids that targeted the Kafr Souseh neighborhood.
There are many accounts of the aftermath of Israeli strikes, as the Syrian regime’s media outlets claim that the targets targeted by the Israeli bombardment belong to the regime, or civilian targets in general, while the Israeli media claim that the targets belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is on international “terrorism” lists.
Israeli strikes continue
The talk about sending the “Khordad 15” missile system did not prevent Tel Aviv from launching new air strikes on sites and installations in Syria, exemplified by the targeting by Israeli army units with tank shells of a military site of the regime forces in the village of Bir Ajam, south of Quneitra city, on March 2, without information on the size of the losses caused by targeting.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Quneitra reported that an Israeli “Merkava” tank stationed on a military hill in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights targeted a group that was trying to approach the “al-Ziraa” tower south of Quneitra with three shells, causing no casualties.
Indications are increasing that the Israeli warplanes may target areas in Syria, following paper leaflets delivered in southern Syria and the recent activity of the Israeli intelligence “122nd” squadron.
The accumulated aerial data and data of the Israeli Air Force’s activity since the morning of February 27 indicate “the imminence of an aggression against Syria,” according to what was published by the “SAM” Twitter account, which tracks Israeli strikes in Syria, on March 2.
At the time, the account said that the danger rate was high in the next 48 hours, with a great focus on southern Syria in the past reconnaissance operations.
Israeli drones dropped leaflets in the areas of Quneitra and Daraa, southern Syria, on February 28 and March 1, warning officers and soldiers of the regime army and rejecting the continued presence and cooperation of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters at the Tal al-Hara military base in the countryside of Daraa.
What is the “Khordad 15” system?
– The Iranian Ministry of Defense presented the locally made “Khordad 15” system for the first time on June 9, 2019.
– The operation system is equipped with locally made “surface-to-air” missiles of the type “Sayyad 2” and “Sayyad 3”.
– It is capable of detecting six targets simultaneously through the “Najm- 804B” radar it is equipped with.
– It is able to detect various targets, including warplanes and drones, within a range of 150 km and can track them at a range of 120 km.
– It can detect stealth targets (invisible targets that are difficult to detect by radar or any other electronic system) within 85 km, and hit them at a range of 45 km.
– Three launchers are used, each with a capacity of four missiles.
– It can shoot down targets at a maximum height of 27 km and within a range of 75 km with “Sayyad 2” missiles and 120 km with “Sayyad 3” missiles.
Propaganda, Iran is bluffing
Tehran’s declarations of its willingness to provide the Syrian regime with defensive systems and “sensitive” weapons have been repeated, most notably in September 2018, when Iranian and Russian media outlets said that Iran intends to supply the regime forces with modern qualitative weapons such as “Kawthar” fighters and the “Bavar-373” air defense system.
But it remained in the media circulation without any official confirmation from any party, experts say.
Mustafa al-Nuaimi, a researcher in Iranian affairs, told Enab Baladi that Iran’s announcement of supplying Syria with the medium-range “Khordad 15” air defense system comes in the context of Iranian “propaganda” in confronting its opponents and how it is invested by the Iranian regime’s social incubator, in light of the demonstrations that have exhausted the power system.
For his part, Anton Mardasov, a non-resident scholar in the Syria Program at the Middle East Institute, told Enab Baladi that there had been talk about the deployment of Iranian air defense systems of various ranges in Syria for two years now, and according to some reports, some of them have already been deployed.
“I would like to think that Iran is bluffing and will refrain from deploying systems in Syria, but in the current circumstances, this may be true,” Mardasov said.
Israel has targeted many sites and facilities in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime during the past years in order to destroy the Iranian corridor (air, land, and sea) for smuggling weapons to Syria and Lebanon.
And to disrupt the infrastructure for the production and assembly of conventional and advanced weapons and the precision missile project in Masyaf, for example, according to reports by Iranian research centers.
Researcher al-Nuaimi says that the Israeli Air Force, which is used to strike weapons shipments and the Iranian tactical positioning in Syria, is still in place and is working with utmost alert and caution in dealing with Iranian targets in Syria.
Al-Nuaimi added that Israel uses F-16 fighter jets and Israeli “Delilah” missiles, which have a range of 250 km, in its raids. Therefore, from a technical point of view, the ability of the Israeli missiles to target the “Khordad 15” is inevitable and outside the scope of the missile system’s ability to target Israeli fighters.
The researcher pointed out that this scene of competition today is governed by Iran’s strategy of playing on the “edge of the abyss,” which will inevitably contribute significantly to raising the level of tension between Israel and Iran.
A competition based on the display of military strength and the possession of deterrent weapons on both sides, and Israel’s ability to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, and the “disastrous” repercussions of its possession on the Arab region in general and the Arab Gulf in particular, according to al-Nuaimi.
“Changing the rules of the game” or “illusion of victory”
The Syrian radar and air defense systems did not stand in the way of the Israeli raids, which targeted these systems primarily and secondarily.
The Syrian air defense network is one of the old systems, most of which date back to the Soviet era, and which lacks the necessary capabilities to confront any advanced enemy aircraft, such as the Israeli aircraft or the International Coalition.
The air defenses that existed before the Syrian revolution did not pose any significant danger in the face of the Israeli air strike on the al-Kubar facility near Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria in September 2007 or after the revolution in April 2017, when 59 “Cruise-Tomahawk” missiles were launched at the Syrian al-Shayrat base.
Also, after the Syrian revolution, the reports did not record the use of any advanced Iranian weapons by the regime.
The Israeli Jerusalem Post reported on February 25 that “The implications of Iran’s claims are clear, it wants to show that it can supply Syria with a system that is a potential game-changer,” and attributed the reason to the fact that “because Iranian air defense systems can provide cover for other types of Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Iran has tried to move air defense systems to Syria over the last several years. However, recent reports show Tehran is openly announcing that it could send Damascus a system.”
Researcher al-Nuaimi believes that the timing of “Khordad 15” comes in the context of making the so-called “illusions of victory” after the Israeli strikes that it carried out in Syria and killed many experts in missile programs and drones and their repercussions on the Iranian interior.
The Iranian affairs expert does not believe that the “Khordad 15” defense system has the ability to jam Israeli F-16 fighter jets.
From a technical point of view, air defenses will not be feasible in light of the technical difference between the two competing forces in the Syrian geography, he added.
What about Moscow
Speculation abounds about Russia and Iran benefiting and the extent of one party’s expansion at the expense of the other, with every talk of sending weapons, withdrawing equipment, or reducing forces on Syrian soil by the regime’s allies and military, political, and economic supporters, Russia and Iran.
There are also many questions about whether sending advanced weapons such as the “Khordad 15” system to Syria will create a new battlefield amid threats of a new phase of the conflict between Israel and Iran.
Russia had a major role in freezing military operations in Syria since the Moscow 2020 agreement and in rearranging the map based on the dominant forces in Syria on the ground after the regime lost control over large areas of the Syrian geography since Moscow’s military intervention on September 30, 2015, under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State group.
Anton Mardasov, the non-resident scholar in the Syria Program at the Middle East Institute, told Enab Baladi that Moscow has stepped up military cooperation with Iran at this stage.
He also ruled out the thought that Russia or even Iran were planning to form some sort of alliance in Syria or elsewhere.
The Iranians would not mind if Russia provided air cover for them and their proxy forces, but apparently, Moscow has simply decided not to prevent Iran from deploying air defense assets because it owes it money for the supply of drones, according to Mardasov.
Iran denies providing Russia with drones to use in its invasion of Ukraine, despite the announcement that hundreds of Iranian drones have been shot down in the skies over Ukraine and despite statements by US officials that “Iran is fueling the war by providing Russia with drones in Ukraine.”
Mardasov considered that the “Kremlin” does not want to change the current situation in Syria, but it may not be able to resist this decision now.
The Kremlin would not want to change the status quo in Syria, but perhaps it cannot resist this decision now and has decided that Iranian air defense assets are a good excuse to up the ante and show that Russia has allies who will cover facilities in Syria along with its air defense assets, according to the Russian expert.
Mardasov pointed out that it is obvious that in case of a “serious incident,” it would be extremely difficult for Moscow to share responsibility.
Statements don’t halt Israeli strikes
The Syrian regime’s response to Israel’s strikes in Syria remains imprisoned in statements and press conferences, and it is satisfied with threatening to respond and condemning any targeting.
The most recent of these statements was from the representative of the Syrian regime to the United Nations, Bassam Sabbagh, who said during a session of the Security Council that the Israeli aggression against Syria is a “described war crime, a violation of international law and the charter of the United Nations, and the council must fulfill its responsibilities to deter the occupation force and ensure that its attacks are not repeated.”
Among the previous responses to the bombing of Aleppo and Damascus airports on August 31, 2022, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said, “Israel is playing with fire, exposing the security and military situation in the region to explosion.”
Mekdad threatened, saying that Syria will not remain silent in the face of the Israeli attacks, and “the Israelis will pay the price sooner or later.”
On March 7, 2022, after targeting the vicinity of Damascus, Mekdad said that Israel must know that the response “will inevitably come,” adding that “Syria is capable of responding to the Israeli attacks, and it is the one that controls the response.”
On March 7, an Israeli airstrike hit the Aleppo International Airport and put it out of service, the AP reported.
Citing a military source, the Syrian state news agency SANA said Israel “carried out an air attack from the direction of the Mediterranean Sea, west of Latakia, targeting Aleppo International Airport, causing material damage to the airport.”
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