Russian military instructors are in Syria giving government forces a training course on how to use new air defenses, the mobile Strela-2 surface-to-air missile system.
Russian state-controlled outlet Russia Today (RT) reported on Tuesday that Russian trainers were teaching Syrian air defense units how to use the Man-Portable Air Defense (MANPAD) system “as quickly as possible.” The outlet went on to say that, typically, training for this system takes up to six months, but a “special training program” had been developed to teach the Syrians in just 15 days.
Strela-2 missiles are an air-defense system designed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The system is a type of MANPAD that can be fired from the shoulder and is designed to target low-flying aircraft. Syrian opposition-fighters have previously used MANPADs to destroy army helicopters.
The training comes amidst a step up in Russian military activity in Syria over the past month. Russian and Syrian fighter jets conducted joint patrols across the country on 24th January, most notably along the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Russian troops also conducted patrols of its Hemeimeem airbase near Lattakia, and additional training of Syrian air defense units earlier in January.
Analysts have suggested that the increase in Russian activity could be a warning to Israel. Israel has targeted the Port of Lattakia twice in recent months, just a few kilometers away from the Russian base in Hemeimeem.
Previously, while conducting frequent airstrikes in Syria, Israel targeted Iranian positions but refrained from striking close to Russian assets.
Others have suggested that the Russian moves are aimed at NATO over the mounting tension between the two in Ukraine.
Syria’s current air defense system is Russian supplied, with Moscow gifting Damascus with the long-range S-300 missile defense system in 2018. Russia has also deployed Pantsir air defense systems in the country, which provide medium to short-range air protection.
Despite the presence of the air defense systems, Israeli jets and attack helicopters have targeted positions within the country with relative impunity over the past decade. In many cases, Israel launches its airstrikes from within its own borders, especially when targeting positions close to the Golan Heights.
Some analysts argue that this is due to a tacit agreement between Russia and Israel which allows the latter to conduct airstrikes in the country as long as Russian assets are not targeted. Others point to the low technical capacity of the Syrian army and its aging weaponry as the reason behind Israel’s ability to strike seemingly at will within the country.
The Israeli government rarely admits to conducting airstrikes but has objected publicly to Iran’s continued presence in Syria.
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.