Already buoyed by a large infusion of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, in recent months the Syrian government has also been enjoying a tactical edge in the form of advanced surveillance and defense technology courtesy of Iran and Russia, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
The equipment includes surveillance drones provided by Iran, anti-mortar systems, special intelligence-gathering equipment, and communications jamming devices, Middle Eastern intelligence officials told the paper.
“We’re seeing a turning point in the past couple of months,” an official was quoted as saying. “It has a lot to do with the quality and type of weapons and other systems coming from Iran and Russia.”
According to Syrian rebel sources, recently opposition forces have been encountering surveillance drones far more frequently than in the past. They claimed that several such aircraft had been downed and were confirmed to have been Iranian-made.
Another source was quoted to the effect that the Syrian army had recently displayed new tactics that were likely acquired through training from foreign advisers.
A Jordanian general who monitors the fighting in Syria, sometimes from across the border several kilometers away, described seeing “many things we haven’t seen before,” including armored vehicles, night-vision devices, thermal imaging instruments and vehicles with jamming equipment.
The general described how the Syrian rebels, who are “not well-trained,” were frequently able to overrun army positions, but were unable to take advantage of their situation as they would then become isolated by jamming equipment, or their location would be pinpointed by drones and other surveillance technology. They would then be subjected to attacks from regime forces in the form of airstrikes or other heavy bombardments, he said.
Russian aid to the Syrian government has been exacerbating tensions between Moscow and the West. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted as saying that a controversial shipment of the state-of-the-art Russian S-300 air-defense system had already begun to arrive in Syria. The Russian government later said that the missiles — which would make foreign airstrikes or the imposition of a Western-administered no-fly zone over Syria far more difficult — weren’t due for delivery before 2014.