Enter the Bear: Does Russia plan air strikes on Daesh/ISIL in Syria?

By Juan Cole| (Informed Comment) | – –

The Israeli press is reporting that Iran has made a firmer military alliance with the Russian Federation in Syria, and that Moscow is sending pilots to Damascus to fly missions in that country against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and other Muslim extremist groups.

The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has suffered a series of losses, in Idlib, Palmyra and elsewhere, and Russia may be afraid that without a substantial intervention, the regime could fall.

Some Syrian Daesh units and other vigilante extremists have a Chechen presence; Chechnya is a territory of the Russian Federation that launched two major rebellions, in the 1990s and again at the turn of the century, and Chechen extremists remain a top security concern for Moscow. To have nearby Syria (only a 20-hour drive from the Russian border through Georgia and Turkey). Russia does not want an extremist Muslim state so near to it, which will give support to Chechen and other rebels inside the federation.

BBC Monitoring translates from the Hebrew of Alex Fishman’s report in the daily Yediot Aharanot:

“Russian combat pilots will arrive in Syria in the next few days and operate battle helicopters and warplanes of the Russian air force against ISIS targets and the extreme Islamist militias operating to topple Asad’s regime… Indeed, the Russians have no hostile intentions towards Israel or any other sovereign state in the region and their central objective is fighting ISIS and preserving Asad’s regime, but the mere presence of a Russian aerial force in the skies of the region will certainly also influence the considerations in relation to the way Israel airforce is used… Thus an Iranian-Russian coalition is being formed alongside the coalition of the United States and its allies against ISIS. On the way, Iran has become a central axis – in the eyes of the powers – to solving all the ills of the Middle East.” [From commentary by Alex Fishman in centrist, mass circulation Yediot Aharonot]

The Arabic newspaper Elaph expanded on the story and pointed out that there had been earlier reports that Moscow intended to send Mig-28 fighter jets to the al-Assad regime.

The rumors now are that Russia intends to go much further, and has decided to do for Syria what the US did last summer and fall for Iraq. Moscow will, Elaph says, send thousands of military personnel as trainers, along with some pilots, to shore up the al-Assad regime.

The plans are alleged to come out of closer diplomatic and militiary ties between Russia and Iran, and to have been approved by the commander of Iran’s special forces, the Quds Force (Jerusalem Brigade), Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani is alleged to have made a recent visit to Moscow to coordinate the new strategy.

While Israeli sources are worried about the growth of a Russia-Iran alliance in the region, Elaph maintains that the United States is perfectly happy with the Russian plans, which add firepower in the US coalition’s own bombing campaigns (which have included Australia, the UK, Turkey and some Gulf fighter jets). It says the US is already engaged in a similar coordination with Iran against Daesh in Iraq.

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Related video:

Euronews: Al-Assad Confident of alliance with Russia, Iran

19 Responses

  1. If Russia does get more involved in Syria, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that they will bomb other rebel groups (IMO, far) more than ISIS. They have consistently toed Assad’s party line, that ~90% of the rebels are radical Islamists, along with other propaganda from the Syrian regime. Hopefully, the Russian Armed Forces aren’t as reckless as they were in Chechnya.

    • Gabriel, I would imagine that is one of the reasons why the USA is unconcerned about this development, in the sense that currently political considerations might necessitate that the USA look the other way at Erdogan’s shenanigans.

      In which case any resupply convoys crossing the Turkish border into Syria may be immune to US-bombing, however much the Americans grit their teeth in anger.

      Not so as far as the Russians are concerned – no such political considerations need stay their hand, and so Erdogan might be well-advised to rapidly reconsider how much aid and comfort his is willing to give to his pet terrorists.

  2. These look like very carefully laid plans, with more Russian dolls than just ISIS and Syria. It is highly likely that Sisi has been brought on board and firmly briefed. The recent agreement signed in Moscow (quoted in Asia Times) link to atimes.com included some pretty potent stuff.

    The creation of a broad counter-terrorism front in which the key international players and the region’s countries, including Syria, would take part.

    An inclusive political solution to the Syrian crisis that includes all parties, including the government, and ensures the country’s unity, territorial integrity and security.

    Practical steps to establish a Russian industrial zone in the Suez Canal region (which is the route for the US naval ships en route to the Gulf region.)

    Establishment of a free trade zone between Egypt and Russia (and Eurasian Economic Zone).

    Use of national currencies in bilateral trade and settlements.

    The construction of the nuclear power plant in Egypt by Russia.

    Energy cooperation involving the Russian majors Rosneft, Gazprom and LUKOIL.

    Purchase of Sukhoi Superjet 100 passenger aircraft by the national airline Egypt Air.

    In addition Abbas and Hamas may, I imagine, have been encouraged to go out of their ways keep all quiet on the Western front.

    PressTV reports this morning that Merkel ‘welcomes Iran’s particiption,,,’ link to presstv.ir None of this can be very nice for Israel, one imagines.

  3. Let’s face it, Islamic State has to be defeated, the US will not align with Assad, yet strangely some in the US [Petraeus] want to use Al Qaeda fighters against IS link to thedailybeast.com US policy is bankrupt. How can the US play any role in Syria when the Three most important players, the Syrian Government, Al Nusra Front and Islamic State are not acceptable participants in a final resolution to the conflict.
    The US must realize, as Lavrov, said, there are no “good terrorists” and “bad terrorist” they must all be treated the same by the International community.

    • But the mirror has two faces, and for many the US is the one that is not an acceptable participant in finding a resolution to the conflict. Lavrov also said a solution to ISIS requires first the resolution of the Syrian turmoil. Americans, and by extension the US, possess very little patience and are uneasy allowing things to work through, they prefer results today or tomorrow. I have a theory that a people’s/nation’s natural patience is in proportion to the antiquity of their historical identity. I think Obama may understand something like this but understanding doesn’t make it possible to change it. It’s far better today to learn to surf than seek to control the waves.

    • haary: “Let’s face it, Islamic State has to be defeated, the US will not align with Assad”

      Why not?

      I mean it: what stops the USA from “aligning with Assad”?

      He has never attacked the USA.
      He has never expressed any interest in attacking the USA.

      From a purely US-centric PoV there is absolutely nothing stopping the USA from allying with Assad in order to defeat ISIS.

      That support need not extend any further than that one aim, any more than allying with the Soviet Union in WW2 signalled anything more than an alliance of convenience in the face of a common enemy.

      This “we can’t work with Assad” nonsense is exactly that, and pronouncing it as a self-evident truth doesn’t make it any less of a lie.

      The USA can work with Assad.

      It SHOULD work with Assad, because if there is one thing we know for a fact it is this: Assad wants ISIS dead and buried even more than the USA wants ISIS destroyed.

      Give him the tools, and he’ll do the job. Guaranteed.

      So if the USA doesn’t want to give him those tools then, honestly, Uncle Sam isn’t levelling with us.

  4. It’s amazing how new channels can take couple of sentences and run with it in English to end up on a reputable site like informed comment. Gee, I am not a fan of any political power in Syria, but as Syrian would wish for all commentators that commented on the subject to listen in ARABIC to the entire interview. They will at least in the first ten minutes realize that Israel interference in Syria stopped being Mossad like but actual aggression on our land. So give me a break.

  5. The Repubs will go nuts demanding our soldiers must die too, and in greater numbers than the Russians.

  6. It’ll be interesting if Putin uses significant military force in Syria. Imagine what happens if Russia has military forces in Syria, and the Republicans/Israelis attack Iran.

  7. The only time Russia and the U.S. collaborate is if Russia gets paid handsomely in some way.

    Will the tab be one (1) each Ukraine?

  8. Typo in your summary of Elaph news report: MiG-28 is a fictional aircraft in the 1986 film Top Gun (real Mikoyan fighters are designated with odd numbers).

    According to my computer translation of Elaph, Russia would like to sell MiG-29 fighters and Yak-130 advanced trainers to the Syrian Air Force, which has operated the MiG-29 since the 1980s. I suspect they will need to include pilots and ground crews to make that sale. If I had the skills to fly or maintain a fourth-generation jet fighter like the MiG-29, I would be long gone from Syria and working for Emirates SkyCargo (or frankly anyone including Yellow Cab).

  9. This is good news & long overdue.

    Can only hope America tries to force Turkey, Israel & Jordan into stopping various terrorists from entering Syria

  10. According to a Russian spokesman for President Putin, reported on RT among other outlets, the Israeli report has been denied as absolutely untrue. Given the source and Israel’s involvement with ISIS and opposition to the Iran nuclear deal it would be prudent to question the bona fides of any report coming from Israeli sources.

  11. Assad is using Isis to stop the main opposition. Isis is attracting Jihadis to be slaughtered. A Baathist plot.

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