While the Syrian Air Force’s new and modernized MiG-29 Fulcrum jet fighters it purportedly received from Russia may improve its antiquated and decaying arsenal, it’s unlikely to deter or stop continued Israeli airstrikes on Syria.
On May 30, the Syrian state-run SANA news agency reported that Russia had supplied Syria with a “second batch of modernized MiG-29 fighter jets” that “are more effective than their previous generation.”
The source did not clarify when the first batch was delivered, merely saying that the handover ceremony was at Russia’s Khmeimim Airbase in the country’s west. Then the jets reportedly took off and headed to different bases across the country.
Russia’s Tass news agency also reported that the Russian Embassy in Syria confirmed the delivery of the planes and also claimed it was the second batch of modernized MiG-29s supplied to Syria, again not clarifying when the first batch was delivered or how many new Fulcrums in total have been delivered to the Syrian Air Force.
The Russian embassy also tweeted that the jets were already being used for missions in the country.
The purported delivery coincided with a Russian delivery of unmarked MiG-29s to Russia’s ally in the Libyan civil war, General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) group. It’s unclear if Russia and Syria were trying to conceal that delivery by claiming that Russia had supplied Syria with modern MiG-29s.
Either way, Syria’s air force could do with some new MiG-29s. Recent footage showed just how fatigued and in poor shape Syria’s existing MiG-29 fleet is after almost a decade of war and countless bombing raids across the country.
Even if Syria has taken delivery of new and modernized MiG-29s, these jets are not likely to prevent Israel from carrying out continued airstrikes in Syria with relative impunity.
Over the past seven years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Syria hitting targets it believes are related to Iran’s presence in that war-torn country. It is doing so to prevent Iran from gaining a permanent strategic military foothold in the country which Israel fears could substantially strengthen its Hezbollah adversary in Lebanon and possibly even in Syria itself – where Israel wants to prevent the group from establishing any ‘second front’ alongside the Golan Heights.
Syrian air defenses have failed to prevent any of Israel’s airstrikes.
They did successfully knock an Israeli F-16 out of the sky in February 2018 following an Israeli attack on Tiyas Military Airbase. The pilots had made it back to Israeli airspace and were able to eject.
An Israeli military investigation into the incident found that a “professional error” was to blame for the plane’s downing. In other words, Syrian air defences got lucky on that occasion.
In October 2018, when the Israelis were striking targets in Syria’s western Latakia province, Syrian missiles were fired at them. Instead of hitting the Israeli jets, however, they accidentally hit a Russian maritime patrol aircraft, killing all 15 personnel aboard.
Russia blamed Israel and vowed to improve Syria’s antiquated air defenses. Moscow promptly delivered long-range S-300 air defense missiles to Damascus, which are now the most advanced missiles in the Syrian air defense arsenal.
Despite possessing these missiles for well over a year now, Damascus still hasn’t had any success in shooting down any attacking Israeli jets.
It’s worth noting that Israeli jets often strike stationary targets in Syria, likely with Popeye standoff missiles, while remaining inside Lebanese airspace. Syria often claims that its air defense missiles successfully shoot down incoming missiles fired by Israeli jets. Despite such claims, Israel still doesn’t seem to have any major obstacles in its way when it comes to striking targets in Syria that it deems a potential threat.
Also, even when Israeli jets enter Syrian airspace, they remain undetected or can successfully jam Syrian air defenses or evade their missiles. That isn’t likely going to change even if Syria now has modernized MiG-29s, and even if those MiG-29s are armed with highly formidable Vympel NPO R-77 air to air missiles, the Russian equivalent of the American AIM-120 AMRAAM.
Justin Bronk, a research fellow who specializes in combat airpower and technology at the London-based Royal United Services Institute think tank, says that new MiG-29s would indeed “be a boon for the Assad regime’s aerial bombing campaign, given the extremely worn-out state of its existing fleets.”
“However, in terms of causing problems for Israeli incursions and strikes into Syrian airspace, they are unlikely to have many options,” he said.
That is because Israeli jets have far more modern and sophisticated sensors, weapon systems and defensive aids suites than their Syrian counterparts “and are flown by pilots with far better training for air to air engagements.”
“Even if they are equipped with R-77s, I would imagine Syrian crews flying the newly delivered Fulcrums will try to give any Israeli strike packages a wide berth!” Bronk said.