BEIRUT – Iran is preparing to deploy two fighter jet squadrons to Syria to conduct strikes on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, according to a Kuwaiti daily with close access to Moscow’s military intervention in the war-torn country.
“The Iranian participation [in the Syrian conflict] is headed for more advancement with preparation for the arrival of two fleets of Iranian planes,” sources in the Damascus joint operations room of the “4+1” military coalition of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah told Al-Rai's newspaper’s chief international correspondent, Elijah J. Magnier.
The sources added that Russian-manufactured Sukhoi jets would be deployed to the Tiyas (T4) airbase east of Homs after Iranian engineers finish preparations at the facility, which is near the Al-Shayrat base where Russia already plans to begin operating from.
“Iran and Russia have agreed that Moscow will perform all repair operations needed by these combat fleets along with provision of the necessary ammunition and the development of the launch systems of these Iranian planes,” the sources added.
Al-Rai also reported that Iran sees its planned aerial intervention in Syria as an opportunity for its pilots to gain valuable operational experience.
Iran has already provided logistical assistance to Russia’s aerial campaign in Syria; with The Aviationist blog run by Rome-based journalist David Cenciotti noting that Iranian F-14 Tomcats had escorted Russian strategic bombers flying over Iran en-route to Syria.
The Iranian jets were spotted in a video released by Russia’s Defense Ministry on November 20 showing Russian Tu-95 bear bombers conducting bombing runs as part of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria.
Al-Rai’s Magnier has written a number of articles in recent weeks on Russia’s bombardment campaign in Syria, claiming access to sources in both the Baghdad and Damascus operation rooms for the “4+1” military coalition of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.
On Monday, the journalist reported that Russia was moving to deploy jets in the Al-Shayrat base located approximately 35 kilometers southeast of Homs.
The following day, a US defense official confirmed to Fox News that Russia was already operating helicopters out of the base, and was preparing to land fixed-wing aircrafts at the facility.
Syria receiving S-300s
The dramatic Al-Rai article also claimed that Russia has supplied Syria with an advanced aerial defense system.
“Damascus has received a group of Russian high-end S-300 missiles and these missiles are ready to enter active service,” sources told daily’s Magnier.
“Most importantly, Damascus will announce with this special development that any state that sends any plane into Syrian air space without coordinating with it will be considered an enemy plane and dealt with without warning,” the sources added.
“Safe passageways will be specified for planes that wish to enter the war on terror after coordination with Syrian military command.”
The S-300, which was first introduced into service by the Soviet Union in 1979, is considered one of the top air defense systems in the world.
After Turkey shot down a Russian jet on November 24, Moscow declared that it had deployed the more advanced S-400 to Syria in order to defend its aerial assets, however the Syrian regime itself has no operational control over the advanced air defense system.
Russia began its aerial bombardment campaign in Syria on September 30, striking rebels in the Homs, Hama, Latakia and Idlib provinces while also claiming to have hit ISIS targets further east.
Despite Moscow’s claim it was hitting ISIS, most of its airstrikes have been conducted in coordination with Syrian regime ground operations against rebels in the northwest of the country.