Iran has used advanced air-defense batteries against Israeli planes carrying out war-between-war operations in Syria in an attempt to challenge IAF pilots.
Tehran first deployed the batteries to Syria last year as Israeli strikes against Iranian weapons and military infrastructure intensified.
Since Israel began its war-between-wars campaign (known as mabam in Hebrew) in 2013, the IAF has carried out thousands of strikes to thwart Iranian entrenchment and the smuggling of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon. According to foreign reports, it has also carried out strikes in Iraq and Yemen.
The Syrian Arab Army is equipped with a range of older Russian-made surface-to-air missile systems, including the SA-2, SA-3, SA-5, SA-6,-SA-8, SA-11, SA-17, SA-19, SA-22 and the Pantsir 1.
Russia has also deployed advanced S-300 and S-400 air-defense batteries but has not given them to the Syrians; instead, they are manned by Russian forces. They have yet to be used against Israeli pilots due in part to the ongoing safety mechanisms in place between Jerusalem and Moscow.
The response time of Syrian SAMs has decreased, and more than 1,000 missiles have been fired at IAF jets over the past seven years, but they have been unable to deter their missions.
Iran also separates the radars of their SAMs from the missile launchers, leading the IAF to change its operational procedures by sending up larger formations to hit more targets at once rather than having jets return to the same target and risk being downed.
In 2018, an F-16 crashed in northern Israel after it was struck by an SA-5 missile fired by Syrian forces during an IAF operation. Syrian missiles have also landed in Israel in recent years, including this year, when shrapnel from one missile hit northern Tel Aviv, and another errant interceptor missile landed close to the Dimona nuclear site in the Negev Desert.
In July 2020, Ali Abdullah Ayyub, the deputy commander of Syria’s armed forces, and Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, signed an agreement to broaden bilateral military cooperation and to develop a robust air-defense system for Bashar Assad’s regime.
“From now on, Iran will strengthen its ties with Syria even more on all levels,” Bagheri said at the time.
Since their introduction, the IAF has been studying the Iranian batteries, which have architecture unlike that of the Russian batteries.
While the IAF continues to carry out missions successfully over Syria, the Iranian batteries are still a new challenge to Israeli pilots.
The IAF understands that the Islamic Republic’s defense industry is robust and constantly works to improve and manufacture systems and platforms that can threaten Israel and other countries in the region.
Last October, Iran carried out a large-scale air-defense drill called Defenders of Velayat Sky 1400, which showcased the capabilities of upgraded systems and weapons, including cruise missiles, radar, surveillance, electronic warfare, communication systems, advanced manned and unmanned stealth drones and optical surveillance networks.
During the drill, Iran used its 3rd Khordad, Mersad, Talash, Khordad 15, Majid and Dezful SAM systems.
Following the drill, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “In the face of these realities, the enemy must consider Iran’s power and defense capabilities in its calculations and decisions.”