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April 1, 2016 1:13 pm

Despite Promise of Syria Pullout, Russia Still Present, Coordinating Air Operations With Israel

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avatar by Lea Speyer

A Russian-made Sukhoi Su-24. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A Russian-made Sukhoi Su-24. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli security and defense experts say that despite Moscow’s declaration of withdrawal from war-torn Syria, Russian military presence in the country is still so substantial that it requires continued special operational communication with Israeli forces, Defense News reported Thursday.

According to the report, officials from both countries will hold talks next week aimed at preventing inadvertent clashes between Russian and Israeli targeting systems and air activity.

“When [Russian President Vladimir] Putin said they were leaving, he didn’t say all his forces were leaving,” explained IDF Brig. Gen. Avi Peled, head of the J5’s International Military Cooperation Division, to Defense News. “They still have their troops, their aircraft and I’m sure the S400 and other capabilities, and that’s the reason we’re going to set up a new meeting to make sure safety measures continue to be in place.”

Since Russia entered the conflict in Syria to back President Bashar Assad, Israeli and Russian military officials have maintained almost daily contact, the report says. Russian fighter jets have accidentally breached Israeli airspace a known two times but quickly corrected course back into Syria.

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According to Israeli projections, a complete Russian pullout from Syria is not likely, Defense News said. Rather, intelligence officials are forecasting a “protracted Russian presence in Syria, including indefinite deployment of S400 air defenses and other new assets, including a sizable contingent of Russian sappers, engineers, canine forces and mine-clearing robots deployed around the regime’s recently retaken city of Palmyra.”

According to the UN, over 250,000 people have been killed and more than a million wounded in Syria. Almost half of the country’s population — 23 million people — have been displaced by the war.

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