Moscow charged Thursday, Oct. 25, that US surveillance aircraft had piloted a massive UAV attack on Russia’s Syrian air base. DEBKAfile: This charge aimed at stopping US-UK reconnaissance flights which are assessing the new Russian air defense and electronic warfare deployments in Syria.
It was leveled by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, who claimed that that Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base in Syria had come under a massive drone attack by unmanned aerial vehicles piloted by a US Poseidon 8 surveillance aircraft. “This is very alarming data, of course,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. ”No one has doubts about the conclusions, an appropriate analysis will be carried out by our military.” Asked whether the subject would be raised at the Trump-summit expected to take place on Nov. 11 in Paris, Peskov did not rule this out.
It also came up, DEBKAfile’s sources report, in the talks US National Security Adviser John Bolton held in Moscow on Monday and Tuesday.
The Russian accusation is indeed grave. The radical Islamist rebel Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham has mounted repeated drone attacks on the Khmeimim airbase from Idlib and northern Latakia, but Moscow has never before charged the US with direct military involvement in attacks by the Islamist terrorists.
The accusation also directly affects Israel, or rather its air force. According to our sources, the Russian accusation is aimed at halting the US and British reconnaissance flights taking place for some days along the Syrian Mediterranean coast and the Israeli and Jordanian borders with Syria. Our military sources report that these missions aim primarily to gauge the effectiveness of the Russian S-300 air defense missiles and electronic warfare systems newly-deployed in various parts of Syria, and how far they endanger any US and Israeli warplanes operating in Syrian airspace.
The coming issue of DEBKA Weekly (for subscribers) out on Friday, Oct. 26, provides details of those missions. Click here to subscribe.
It is five weeks since Israel discontinued its air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria out of reluctance to risk its aircraft being shot down by the Russians out of eagerness to even the score over the downing of their IL-20 spy plane on Sept. 17, albeit by Syrian missiles. Russian eavesdroppers this week picked up chatter in Israel about possible plans to resume the air strikes. And so, Moscow came up with the charge of an American Poseidon piloting a rebel drone attack on its air base in Syria, mainly to deter Israel and its air force from returning to Syrian skies – certainly before Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet next month.
Why is the Kremlin so anxious to connect the two cases? The Russians have long memories. In December 1987, i.e. 31 years ago, shortly before President Ronald Reagan and President Mikhail Gorbachev were to meet in Geneva, the US and Israel decided to ignore Russian threats in Syria and allow aerial duel to take place between Syrian fighters secretly piloted by Russian air crews and Israeli warplanes. The engagement was to test their respective electronic warfare systems in action and find out which was superior, Israeli-Western or Russian capabilities. However, Gorbachev’s hopes of reaching the summit with Reagan with the upper hand, after proving Russian superiority, were dashed after Russian-piloted aircraft were downed by the Israeli air crews.
With another summit coming up shortly, the Russians are waiting in suspense for Israel to decide whether to brave their cutting-edge hardware or avoid the risk.