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On July 8, 2020 Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub and Head of the General Staff of the Iranian armed forces Major General Mohammad Bagheri met in Damascus to sign a new agreement on military and military-technical cooperation.
"The agreement brings strategic ties that unite Syria and Iran into being and has become the result of years of cooperation for confronting terrorism in Syria, as well as aggressive policies towards our countries," President Bashar al-Assad said.
The new document primarily stipulates the deployment of Iranian air defense systems in the Syrian territory to protect the military facilities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria. Besides, Tehran has pledged to transfer some samples of anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian government army and train military specialists to use those.
It is quite natural that the parties keep a lid on agreement details. However, the air defense systems in service with the Syrian armed forces are not always efficiently used to protect against attacks by Israel or the United States, whose aircraft launch missiles outside of Syria.
Syria is well positioned to throw up fire on missile carriers outside its territory, mainly Israeli air force warplanes that launch missiles over the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, in the airspace of Lebanon or over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
At the same time, the military and political leadership of the country fears that the destruction of Israeli carriers outside of Syria may provoke another armed conflict with the Jewish state, which Damascus is extremely uninterested in and completely unprepared for. Another factor keeping Syria from this narrative is Russia.
In turn, the Syrians have not yet fully mastered the Russian-made air defense weapons currently in service with their army, designed to combat evading and low-flying targets, including cruise missiles. This is evidenced by the fact that Syrian detachments of surface-to-air and anti-tank missile systems located next to the Khmeimim air base do a great job of destroying unmanned aerial vehicles, rocket artillery shells and mortar charges in the far reaches. Whereas in other places this is hardly in evidence.
It should be noted that the previous Syrian-Iranian agreement on "strategic cooperation" was signed in 2018. It provided for increased supplies of ammunition and military equipment to the Syrian army, assembly and joint production of some Iranian-designed weapons, as well as Iran's expanded military presence in Syria. The agreement reflects articles on priority engagement of Iranian business in the extraction and use of Syria's natural resources.
For the time being, one can hardly assess the full significance and potential consequences of this agreement if implemented. If it allows the Iranians deploy the S-300 air defense systems purchased from Russia in the territory of Syria and carry firepower against Israeli (American) warplanes at extremely distant ranges outside of Syrian territory, this will certainly entail an escalation of the conflict between Iran and Israel in Syria.
The deployment of Iranian air defense systems in Syria will be accompanied by an increase in the military presence of Tehran, which does not meet the interests of Russia. Currently, pro-Iranian militia groups in Syria cause growing discontent with that country's population, which often results in rebellious actions against the central authorities, especially in the south. Discontent is ripening in other parts of the country either.
Moreover, some influential representatives of the Syrian leadership attempt to persuade Bashar al-Assad to reduce military and political cooperation with Russia and place more emphasis on Iran, to worsen relations with Israel and Turkey, and to act more aggressively for liberating the northern territories from armed extremists and Kurdish formations.
Naturally, Russia is concerned about pressure Tehran brings against Damascus, which is becoming more and more dependent on its traditional ally. At the same time, Moscow realizes this is a wrong path that may lead to the aggravated internal conflict owing to Sunni-Shiite contradictions.