The Secret War between Russia and Iran’s Quds Force in Syria

There appears to be an on-going, unofficial, and secret war in Syria between Putin’s Russia and the Iranian Republican Guard Corps’ Quds Force involving do it yourself drones in the hands of  Syrian Islamic Rebel “deniable assets” attacking Russian interests, particularly at the Khmeimim airbase.
First, look at this photo:
It comes from this 7-6-2019 www.aljazeera -dot- com story:
Saudi-UAE coalition says it intercepted Houthi drones
The Houthi drones were destroyed in Saudi Arabia’s airspace according to the military coalition.


Now look at this BBC photo, which comes from my Chicagoboyz post here:


The DIY ‘Assault Drone’ Siege of Russian Bases in Syria
Trent Telenko on August 26th, 2018

This is the bootleg 3D printed version of the Russian Elevon drone used by Syrian Rebels

Both are identically produced drones made via a 3D laser scanned and 3D plastic body printed copy of a Russian Elevon Drone.   The top drone photo was involved in the just reported attack on Saudi interests by Houthi rebels on 7-6-2019. The bottom photo is from my report on D-I-Y drone attack on Russia’s the Khmeimim airbase in Syria during January 2018.
By way of comparison, the photo below is of a Russian Elevon drone downed over Syria by the rebels there.  There is no 3D printing or duct tape on this drone:
The common denominator for both D-I-Y drones is the presence of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps’ Quds Force in Syria and Yemen.  And the Quds Force has launched drone attacks on Israel from Syria and on Saudi Arabia from Yemen.
Strategypage is currently reporting from IDF sources that Russian GPS jamming in Syria is aimed at “Syrian Rebel” D-I-Y drones to defend Khmeimim airbase, and from anything else that might be in Syrian skies.

Israel has been accusing Russia of causing GPS signal disruption in northern Israel since early June. Russia denies any responsibility but it appears that Russian EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment in Syria causes intermittent disruption of commercial aircraft GPS navigation systems over Israel. While Russia has EW gear specifically for GPS jamming or spoofing (create false signals), that does not appear to be what is happening here.Israel believes the GPS disruption is an unintended side effect of Russia using EW equipment heavily to protect their bases from Islamic terrorists attack using explosives equipped commercial UAVs, as well as other EW equipment being tested against the American F-22 and Israeli F-35 stealth aircraft that regularly operate over Syria. Russia EW gear, even the impressive new stuff, still relies a lot on “brute force” solutions. That means sending out powerful, multi-frequency jamming signals rather than less intense but more focused signals (which Western EW gear favors). Russia depends on export sales of these new EW systems to pay for developing them. “Unfortunate side effects” are not what they want to be associated with their new EW equipment and would, as is their custom, prefer to believe the bad news does not exist or is propaganda spread by jealous Western rivals. Israel maintains good relations with Russia in Syria by not revealing flaws found in new Russian EW gear or any of the new systems Russia has used in Syria. But this Russian systems flaw is impossible to ignore or explain without going into detail about how Russian EW equipment works. Russian and Israeli negotiators are trying to work out a mutually acceptable solution, as they have done so many times before.  

Using Occam’s razor regards the origin of these drones, the simplest explanation is the Quds Force provided the same drone to both the Syrian Rebels that are fighting Assad and Russia and to the Yemen’s Houthi Rebels fighting the American supported Saudi Arabian Coalition in Yemen.
It appears that Iran’s Quds Force and Russia are fighting a secret war in Syria and all the reports of heavy GPS jamming by Russia in Syria -ARE NOT- aimed primarily at Israel or the USA. It is aimed at IRGC facilities/forces in Syria.
Photographic evidence says some of the D-I-Y drones attacking Khmeimim airbase are Iranian.
There are two tests that Western and particularly Israeli intelligence agencies can do to validate there is in fact a secret war between Russia and Iran’s Quds Force, and both involve electronic intelligence (ELINT).

The first test is to determine if the Russians in Syria are jamming &  spoofing their own GLOSNASS satellite navigation system as well as GPS.   The Russians jamming their own system is a solid indication they think someone with knowledge of how to weaponize GLOSNASS satellite navigation signals is behind the D-I-Y drones in Syria.


While this is a possible intelligence indicator for Iran, since the Russians have sold Glonass guided weapons to Iran.  It is not proof positive.  A lot of commodity GPS receivers are “dual mode” i.e. they have embedded GLOSNASS capability.  Cheap Taiwanese made GPS receivers have had dual capability for years and some of the more expensive models also attempt to get a best solution by using both GPS/GLOSNASS C/A codes.  So jamming/spoofing against GLOSNASS exploitation by D-I-Y drone might simply be a case of through due diligence by the Russian Armed Forces in Syria.


The second and definitive test involves mapping the jamming and spoofing signal strength of Russian anti-drone electronic warfare and then geo-locate Iranian Quds Force within that signal pattern.  If there is a close match of the strongest jamming/spoofing signal patterns to Quds Force.  It’s definitive.

Invasive ELINT platforms — IDF F-35 and USAF F-22 mentioned in the Strategy page piece plus drones — can do this inside Syrian air space. However, it will not be as easy as a few flights in and out.  Mapping Russian radiated signal patterns will be tricky as radio signal ground bounce distorts what you see from an airborne platform.
The Israeli Defense Forces are in the best position to accomplish this second ELINT test as their suite of drone capability likely includes more than a few multi-copter drones that can land disposable radio listening devices and other sensors near IRGC Quds Force facilities in Syria.

15 thoughts on “The Secret War between Russia and Iran’s Quds Force in Syria”

  1. Trent, you are on the right track. See Tensions Grow Between Russia, Iran in Syria.

    Some analysts believe that, unlike when they became involved in Syria’s war, Russian and Iranian forces now control larger territories and both countries are searching for economic opportunities in the country.

    “Now there are more points of friction between the two countries than ever before,” said Jowan Hemo, a Syrian economist who follows the economic patterns of the war.

    Also, check out this deep analysis from a couple years ago on Small Wars Journal Syria’s Desert Hawks and the Loyalist Response to ISIS.

    Because of the complex, multi-sided nature of the war, a lot of the fighting was outsourced to militias that had maintained contacts on all sides, such as this particular one the Desert Hawks. It would not be surprising to see a group work with the Russians one week, get in their good graces under their air cover umbrella, and then turn around and work against them the next week.

  2. I dunno. Having the Quds force attack the Russians seems like suicide. I could maybe believe it’s from other Iranian proxies, but even that seems insanely reckless. Why wouldn’t it be more plausible to think that it was some other force, say Saudi backed, who would be more likely to attack the Russians openly?

  3. Brian,

    Syria is very much a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of place. It doesn’t have to make sense.

    The Middle East in general is like that, but it goes to extremes during the many civil wars. I recall a line in P.J. O’Rourke’s _Holidays in Hell_ about the last Lebanese civil war, in which some journalist asked an Israeli officer why some now-gone militia made a particularly bone-headed and obviously suicidal attack on some other faction. The Israeli officer scratched his head and replied, “Because they had the ammunition.”

    Syria’s civil war has been going on for a long time. The Lebanese civil war lasted longer. Things there can certainly get worse and probably will.

  4. Tom, Sure, but given that there are dozens of “sides” in Syria, many of which have plenty of reasons to attack Russia, it seems likely to me that any of the non-Iranian sides are more plausible candidates for who could be attacking Russians with homemade drones.

  5. Brian,

    That would be true except for Trent’s statement that the drones the Iranians are flying from Yemen against Saudi Arabia are identical to the ones being used against Russian airbases in Syria. Many Syrian factions have used home-built drones against each other, but the ones being used against the Russians have unique signatures which, per Trent, are shared by the ones flown from Yemen into Saudi Arabia. And only by the ones from from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.

  6. Which one of these seems more likely:
    Option A: The Iranians are so reckless and stupid that they are attacking Russian military forces with the same exact cheap homemade drones that their proxies in Yemen are using to attack the Saudis. They’re brazenly and openly attacking their only major military ally, AND the country that has zero moral problem with reducing their enemies to rubble, i.e. Chechnya, Syria, piles of dead exiled Russians in the West, etc.
    Option B: Some other group is attacking Russia with the same cheap homemade drones that the Iranian proxies in Yemen are using to attack the Saudis. These drones are cheap and simple to make, so that even you and I could make them. There are plenty of groups who would like to kill Russians, and making it look like perhaps the Iranians are responsible would be a nice cherry on top.
    I dunno about you, but my vote is Option B.
    (P.S. From the comments of the linked article about the attack on the Russian airbase in Syria last year, you can see that I didn’t believe for a second that these cheapo drones were responsible, I think it was a BS Russian cover story. That would make some sense, since they probably would easily be able to procure them since they probably gave them, or at least their plans, to the Iranians anyway.)

    Speaking of Russians getting killed, I’m surprised there isn’t more discussion about that sub accident from last week. When the Russians got massacred in Syria a while back, it was all over the internet almost immediately, way before the MSM would touch it, but on this I’ve seen very little discussion/speculation at all. Submarine stuff is way more secretive, of course, but the silence has been striking…

  7. LOL. The Houthies have been targeting and have hit Patriot missile sites on several occasions now. Your information is largely wrong and propaganda really. Yup the Russian EW is “eye watering” according to one US general.

    As one who has built and flown drones I can tell you those pictures are common drones and their copies, widely available from China. ;)

  8. So long as it’s cheaper to launch drones against a base than it is to shoot them down, people will do this sort of attack just to make people bleed money.

    So how expensive are the drones? How expensive is it to shoot them down?

  9. Individually, these are pretty small beer. Probably a couple of pounds of bomb divided between explosives and casing, a mortar shell at best. GPS accuracy, last I heard, about 10 meter radius. A video link would do better but limited to line of sight, 5 miles in terrain where people stand out pretty plain. Pretty much a terror weapon, not very effective against disciplined troops. Massed against a target large enough to accommodate the the accuracy like a town, somewhat more trouble.

    They’re hard to shoot down because there small, with few metal parts. Slow, so typically ignored by search radar when they do register because they look like birds. An anti air missile costs between 10’s and 100’s of thousands, so not a paying proposition even if they could target one of these. Stingers are in the single thousands but need a heat signature that these don’t have. They’re obviously vulnerable to ground fire if the gunners are in the right place and looking the right way at the right time. Small and close to the ground means you have to be very close the line of flight to engage.

    The Israelis have had luck with configuring their systems to shoot them down.

  10. There are so many wonderful possibilities, besides Quds v Russia.

    Turkey might be contributing drones or materials to “encourage” Russia to quit before all the Sunni groups get driven into Turkey. Then, again, the drones might be a provocation designed to get Russia to wipe out the Sunni enclave and to make Turkey deal with the militants in theirown back yard.

    Syrians don’t seem to like Turkey, so either is a possibility.

    The Sunni militants may have theirown reasons for using Iranian/Russian drone designs. It may be the only stone left to throw from the box that they are in.

    There are way too many teams on that field.

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