Report: Iran steps up air defense deployment in Syria in bid to curb Israeli strikes

Unnamed intelligence source tells Newsweek that Israel has struck at least seven targets related to the network over the past two years, and killed 10 Iranians

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, the Iran-made Bavar-373 air defense missile system is seen after being unveiled by President Hassan Rouhani, Iran, August 22, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
File: In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran-made Bavar-373 air-defense missile system is seen after being unveiled by then-president Hassan Rouhani, Iran, August 22, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iran has invested millions of dollars in an effort to ramp up the deployment of an advanced air defense network in Syria, amid repeated attempts by Israel to target Iranian sites and shipments of weapons to its regional proxies, according to a Tuesday report.

Citing an unnamed intelligence source from a nation allied with the United States, Newsweek reported that Iran over the past two years has been “promoting the deployment of aerial defense capabilities on its behalf in Syria at a cost of tens of millions of dollars in order to deal with the Israeli airstrikes.”

The source said the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Aerospace Force, Brig. Gen. Fereydoun Mohammadi Saghaei, is leading the air defense project.

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses specific operations. It says it targets bases of Iran and allied militias, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah group that has fighters deployed in Syria, as well as arms shipments believed to be bound for various proxies, chief among them Hezbollah.

Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

Military officials have said in the past that Syria has improved its air defense capabilities with upgraded Iranian-made components. In a 2018 strike, Israel reportedly targeted a soon-to-be-deployed Iranian advanced air defense system.

“The promotion of these capabilities is carried out as a project shared with the Syrian army and possibly even with the aim of enabling independent Iranian operation of the aerial defense systems from within parts of Syria,” the source told Newsweek.

The report listed several recent airstrikes in Syria against the new Iranian air defense deployment efforts, including strikes in Palmyra and Tartus in October 2021, Latakia in December 2021, Damascus in March 2022, Tartus in July 2022, and two strikes in Homs in November and December 2022.

File: A fire is seen after an alleged airstrike near the Syrian city of Masyaf, on August 25, 2022. (Social media: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The source said that Iran has been working to deploy the Bavar-373 surface-to-air missile system with the Sayyad 4B solid-fuel missile to Syria. Iranian officials say the system paired with the missile has a range of around 300 kilometers and is capable of shooting down fifth-generation fighter aircraft, such as Israel’s advanced F-35I fighters.

“In addition, the Iranians assisted the Syrians in upgrading their radar array, designed to aid in detection and prevention of Israeli attacks mainly against the Iranian establishment in Syria,” the source added to the magazine.

The source also said that at least 10 Iranians involved in the air defense efforts in Syria had been killed by Israel in recent years.

Iran has acknowledged some of them, and vowed revenge.

IRGC officers Ehsan Karbalaipour and Morteza Saidnejad, killed in an attack on Damascus in March 2022, were identified by various reports as air defense engineers; and Col. Davoud Jafari, an adviser from the IRGC’s aerospace division, was killed by a roadside bomb near the Syrian capital in November 2022.

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