Has Israel sent a message to Russia about Iranian ties to the latest strike in Syria?

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) gestures as Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji (2ndL) looks on during the welcoming ceremony at the airport July 19, 2022 in Tehran, Iran. (Getty Pictures)

TEL AVIV: When a shipment of Iranian-made missiles, transiting through Syria, was hit on August 14, it looked like another routine and officially uncredited strike by Israel against weapons destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. But the location raised some eyebrows: just outside the Russian-controlled port of Tartous.

The strikes, according to Israeli military sources, struck about three kilometers from the base in Tartous, a military facility leased by the Russian Navy located on the Mediterranean Sea. Russia received about five minutes’ warning via a deconfliction line before the strikes, launched from the sea and from planes in Lebanese airspace, reached the target; the strikes resulted in the deaths of three Syrian soldiers, according to media reports, but no Russian casualties.

According to Israeli sources, it is the closest strike to the Russian base – and it is difficult to ignore the message sent by such a close attack, at a time when Iran and Russia are developing ties that worry the Israeli officials about future cooperation.

In recent weeks, Iran and Russia have increasingly found common ground, with officials from both countries expressing a desire to deepen their political and economic ties. Israeli officials have been silent on the new cooperation, but the strike, according to members of the defense community here privately, appears designed to send a message that Iran cannot rely on Russia to protect its assets in Syria in the future.

The first sign of growing relations between Moscow and Tehran came when the White House said Tehran was preparing to supply Russia with armed drones for use in Ukraine. A few days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran, one of the few countries in the world to have wanted to welcome the Russian leader since his decision to invade Ukraine in February.

The Israeli military estimates that the first deliveries of these Iranian drones could take place in September, according to sources, with the Russians currently in Iran to begin training in their use.

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Increased trade with Russia could help Iran’s economy, which has suffered for years from US banking and oil sanctions, despite growing political isolation. On the other hand, Russia sees Iran as a potential source of technology it can no longer easily import due to sanctions; Iran brings trade routes, knowledge of how to circumvent sanctions and experience in exporting oil.

Of course, Moscow also brings something to Tehran. In particular, on August 9, an Iranian spy satellite dubbed Khayyam was launched by a Russian launcher from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Sending such a system into space has been a long-sought goal of Tehran, leading to a number of high-profile launch failures. According to a report published in the Iran International website, Tehran plans to put three more versions of the Khayyam satellite into orbit. The systems are believed to be Russian-made, despite Tehran’s claims that they are domestic designs.

Another sign of enhanced cooperation, as reported by a number of Israeli outlets over the past week, is a dramatic increase in the number of cargo flights between Iran and Russia seen since April this year. According to these reports, at least 42 flights from Iranian airlines known to be operated by the Revolutionary Guards have landed in Moscow, compared to just three in all of 2021.

In an August 4 analysis, Ksenia Svetlova of the Atlantic Council noted that the two sides are natural partners.

“Today, with the strained Russian economy and its limited market access due to Western sanctions, deeper cooperation between Moscow and Tehran seems inevitable,” Svetlova wrote. “For Iran, this could be the perfect opportunity to acquire Russian-made weapons, like the SU-30 fighter jets, which were previously unavailable due to Kremlin concerns over Western sanctions against Iran. ‘Iran. The Iranian shopping list is long, and Israel fears there are no levers or sources of pressure to stop this deal in the current environment.

Israeli defense sources agree that Moscow sees Iran as a potential customer for some of its key combat platforms – especially given Putin’s statement on Monday that, by the PA“We are ready to offer our allies and partners the most advanced types of weapons: from firearms, armor and artillery to combat aircraft and drones.”

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All of this concerns Israel, whose defense priorities can be summed up as isolating and weakening Iran by any means necessary. The idea that Iran may soon be flying high-end jets from Russia is far from comforting.

Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel’s National Security Council, told Breaking Defense that relations between Moscow and Tehran are clearly “bad news for Israel,” especially given the current relative freedom of Israel’s air operations in the region.

“There is constant pressure from Iran on Russia to end the silent understanding between Moscow and Jerusalem” that allows Israel to strike targets inside Syria without a Russian response, Eiland said. “Without a doubt, this pressure will increase now”

Amos Gilead, another former senior Israeli military official, added: “There is a strategic link between Russia and Iran, and things are happening there. We have to watch carefully to see how this evolves.

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