NATO warplanes violated Syrian airspace 10 times from July 12-13, according to a report from the Deputy head of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides in Syria Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov. “In the Al Tanf area, which is a zone of international air traffic, ten violations of Syrian airspace have been registered, namely by a pair of F-15 fighter jets, three pairs of F-16 fighter jets and a pair of Rafale fighter jets,” he stated. Within NATO the Rafale is flown exclusively by France and Greece and the F-15 exclusively by the U.S. Air Force, while the F-16 is very widely used by close to half of all alliance members. Admiral Gurinov further elaborated regarding Western activities in Syria: “Moreover, the [U.S.-led] coalition’s forces carried out exercises involving the use of air defence systems in the Al Tanf area on July 12, 2023.” Russian sources also protested that the United States and its Western allies had violated deconfliction protocols 13 times over the past day by sending drones into Syria without coordinating with Russian forces operating there. Western aircraft have operated extensively in Syrian airspace from mid-2014, and have on multiple occasions targeted Syrian government forces and key infrastructure in government held areas.
Airspace violations, air strikes, and the continued presence of Western and Turkish ground forces in Syria’s northeastern and northwestern regions respectively, have all been criticised as serious violations of international law and of Syrian sovereignty as they were not authorised either by Damascus or by the United Nations. It was expected that operations would escalate to larger attacks to fully topple the Syrian government in 2015-2016, by which time Western and Turkish backed insurgents held the large majority of the country, before a Russian military intervention from September 2015 turned the tide of the war and began to constrain the freedom of action of NATO aircraft over Syria. Attacks on government forces within Syrian borders nevertheless continued after 2015, ranging from large U.S.-led airstrikes in 2017 and 2018, to joint U.S., Danish and Australian attacks on Syrian soldiers in the Deir Ez For region in September 2016 causing over 150 Syrian Army casualties. In June the following year the U.S. Navy shot down a Syrian Su-22 strike fighter deep within Syrian territory. More recently in 2020 Turkey shot down Syrian helicopters well within Syrian borders and conducted air and artillery strikes to protect jihadist militants in the Syria’s Idlib region, while Syrian air defences responded by downing of multiple Turkish drones in battles which lasted for over a month. Amid rising tensions with NATO Russia has escalated its defence of Syrian territory, deploying Su-35 fighters to aggressively intercept American drones, increasing integration with and supporting the modernisation of the Syrian Air Force, and reinforcing its strategic assets at Khmeimim Airbase in Eastern Syria.