Photo Credit: Igor Dvurekov
Russian Air Force Mil Mi-24P, September 1, 2011.

On January 3, Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, deputy chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria (a division of the Russian defense ministry), on January 3 announced that Russia had established two military observation posts on the Syrian Golan Heights, in response to “the increasing pace of provocations in the demilitarized zone.”

Last week, a Russian helicopter was spotted by the IDF flying near the ceasefire line in Syrian territory. The Russian helicopter flew for long minutes along the line and then turned east and flew back into Syria. The Air Force air control followed the helicopter and warned the forces, including the IDF air defense batteries in the area. But since the helicopter never crossed the ceasefire line in the Golan into Israeli territory, there was no need to take any further action.


Rear Adm. Kulit later commented on the incident, telling TASS: “To monitor the situation, army aviation units of the Russian Aerospace Forces have organized aerial patrols along the disengagement line separating the armed forces of Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic (the Bravo Line).”

But the Russian official did not mention Israel in his comments on “the increasing pace of provocations in the demilitarized zone.” Instead, he said that three attacks on Syrian pro-government forces had been registered in the Idlib de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria, and blamed Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Party of Turkestan (two terrorist groups that are outlawed in Russia). He also mentioned a US aerial vehicle that was registered outside the Al-Tanf US military base in the American-occupied part of the Homs Governorate in the Syrian Desert.

Of course, Moscow’s real goal is not to monitor, but to impede the increased Israeli operations inside Syria, and deter Israel from attacking Iranian, Hezbollah, and Hamas targets in Syria, as well as arms transfers from Syria to Hezbollah.

The presence of helicopters and other Russian aircraft over the Golan Heights prevents Israel from operating in this airspace. A large part of the attacks attributed to Israel in Syria are carried out from Israeli territory in the Golan Heights and northern Israel. The presence of Russian military aircraft in the region interferes with IAF activity against Hezbollah et al, and Russia can claim that this activity directly endangers Russian aircraft and military personnel.

Back on September 17, 2018, an Ilyushin-20 aircraft was downed by a Syrian antiaircraft system, and Russia claimed this was the result of Israeli F-16 pilots’ using the Russian plane as a shield, which drew an S-200 missile to it (Russia: Israeli F-16 Pilots Used Russian Plane as Shield, Drawing Syrian Missile to It).

There’s another possible explanation for Russia’s intensified presence in southern Syria: in recent weeks, Israel has been directly attacking senior Iranian, Hezbollah, and Hamas officials in Syria and Lebanon. President Bashar al-Assad has been asking Russia for years to help stop these Israeli operations, and the recent aggressive attacks may have triggered Russia’s decision to have some skin in the game.

In the past, whenever Israel launched its attack planes it delivered verbal warnings to the Russian operations center at Latakia airport in northwestern Syria. The warnings were conveyed in Russian and caused the Russians to move their planes away from the border with Israel. It is not known for certain whether Israel has been sending such warnings since it intensified the attacks on October 8, but it can be assumed that it was the case.

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