Syria’s Got a Dangerous Plan to Save Its Warplanes

Syria-Iran deal could reveal Iraqi sympathies

Syria’s Got a Dangerous Plan to Save Its Warplanes Syria’s Got a Dangerous Plan to Save Its Warplanes

Uncategorized October 6, 2013 0

Syria possesses Su-24 bombers, seen here in russian service. Wikimedia Commons photo Syria’s Got a Dangerous Plan to Save Its Warplanes Syria-Iran deal could... Syria’s Got a Dangerous Plan to Save Its Warplanes
Syria possesses Su-24 bombers, seen here in russian service. Wikimedia Commons photo

Syria’s Got a Dangerous Plan to Save Its Warplanes

Syria-Iran deal could reveal Iraqi sympathies

by DAVID AXE

Syria has reportedly signed an agreement with Iran allowing Syria to send some of its warplanes to Iran to protect them from possible attack by the U.S. and its allies— this according to German publication Der Spiegel.

That Iran has offered safe haven to Syrian Pres. Bashar Al Assad’s air force is not shocking, as Iran is Syria’s closest ally. What’s worrying is how Syria probably intends to deliver the planes to Iran.

The warplane deal is a window into some of the world’s lesser known—and unsettling—ties to the 31-month-old Syrian civil war.

To be clear, the Der Spiegel report seems only to state that Al Assad could send his warplanes to Iran, not that he already has. The deal makes sense in the context of America’s threat, in late August, to attack regime targets as punishment for Al Assad using chemical weapons against his own people.

The Syrian air force—its airfields and hundreds of jets and helicopters—surely would have been a prime target of any U.S.-led air campaign. Al Assad is undoubtedly keen to protect his aircraft, as they are by far his greatest military advantage over the ragtag forces of the Syrian opposition.

Considering Obama’s previous reluctance to approve raids—this despite detailed planning and strong French and rebel support for attacks—it seems highly unlikely Syria will need to send planes to Iran. But if strikes did loom, Al Assad would have to find some way to get them there.

Syria does not share a border with Iran. The shortest route between the two countries is across northern Iraq—and that is the most likely path Syria’s fleeing jets would take.

And Iraq might very well allow it. Baghdad is sympathetic to Al Assad and quietly supportive of Tehran’s assistance to the embattled president. Iraqi officials have been accused of turning a blind eye to overflights by Iranian cargo jets allegedly hauling weapons to the Syrian regime. “The abuse of Iraqi airspace by Iran continues to be a concern,” an American official told The New York Times.

But Baghdad is careful to maintain plausible deniability, insisting to U.S. officials that the Iranian flights are carrying only humanitarian aid. “Our policy is that we will not allow the transfer of arms to Syria,” Ali Al Musawi, the spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al Maliki, told the Times.

An exodus of Syrian warplanes would show Iraq’s claims for what U.S. officials believe them to be—lies. The result could be a deep rift between Washington and Baghdad at a time when America is pouring billions of dollars worth of new weapons into Iraq, hoping to transform the once-occupied country into a strong U.S. ally.

Syria’s plan to save its air force could come at the cost of escalating Middle East tensions and upsetting American plans for the region.

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