NightWatch Report: Analysis of the Iranian missile attack and the US/SDF-SAA clashes

Iranian Missile Attack

On 18 June, Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) announced that on Saturday, the 17th, it launched several missiles into Syria, targeting Islamic State fighters in retaliation for the attacks in Tehran on 7 June.

“Medium-range missiles were fired from the western Iranian provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdestan, and a large number of terrorists were killed and weapons destroyed," the Guard said in a statement published on Sunday.

It said the attack targeted "a command base of the terrorists in Deir ez-Zor…. The spilling of any pure blood will not go unanswered.”


Iran did not identify the type of missiles launched, but Israeli press reported they were Shahab-3 medium range ballistic missiles. This missile is a derivative of the North Korean No Dong ballistic missile and has a range of 1,200 kms/ 800 miles.

The Iranian missile strikes are the first reported ground-to-ground attacks from Iran into Syria since the civil war started in 2011. Iranian press said these were the first missiles fired at targets outside Iran in 30 years.

This attack has important implications. If there was any doubt, the Iranians just demonstrated they also can use long range weapons to target and attack the Islamic State and any other enemies of the Assad government. That could include US-backed forces in the US-led coalition.

Previously the Russians were the only combatant to launch missile attacks. They tested new missiles and tactics. This attack conveys Iran that can do the same thing and is willing to do so. Iran’s missile forces gained some targeting experience, just days after President Putin said the experience was priceless.

The selection of targets in Deir ez-Zor is noteworthy. The attackers in Tehran were recruited from within Iran, according to Iranian news reports. Iran’s revenge against the Islamic State was delivered in Syria. Even an Islamic State command complex in Syria most likely would not have been aware of the Tehran attacks, being a bit preoccupied.

The genius of the Iranian targeting is that the missile attack avenges the Tehran terrorist attack, while providing support to the Iranian-backed militias that appear to be trying to reach Deir ez-Zor before the US-backed Free Syrian Army militias based at Al Tanf and Zakf.

US shoots down a Syrian plane

US Central Command officials confirmed that on Sunday, 18 June, a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22.

The US command said that two hours before the aircraft was shot down forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked SDF fighters, "wounding a number" of them and driving them from Ja’din, a village slightly north of Resafa.

The US command said that it called the Russians on the de-confliction phone line “to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing,” before the air engagement.

The US said its forces acted in self-defense after the Syrian aircraft dropped bombs near US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters. "In accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces, the aircraft was immediately shot down," said the US military in a statement.

The Syrian army said its aircraft was on a mission against an Islamic State target when it came under fire, according to state television. The Syrian government warned that the incident could have "dangerous repercussions" on efforts to fight terrorism.

One news report said the Syrian pilot was killed in the crash.


This is the fourth incident in which US forces have attacked forces fighting for the Syrian government that threatened US-backed militias. US and US-backed forces are in the interior of Syria against the express public orders of the Syrian government. The Iranian missile attack provides a glimpse of one possible escalation scenario. The Iranians have Syrian authorization to attack groups that seek to overthrow the Assad government.

These can no longer be considered inadvertent incidents. The Syrians are no match for US forces, but the incidents are reinforcing President Assad’s message that US forces have no legal right to be in Syria. Without Syrian authorization, there also could be legal ramifications from losses of life and property damage.

Ja’din village is on the south side of the Euphrates River and some distance from the river itself and from Raqqa. It appears to be another expansion of the perimeter of US-backed militia forces. In the 15 June edition, NightWatch warned that expansion of the US perimeter at Zakf could lead to more clashes with forces fighting for the Syrian government. The same warning applies to the forces at Raqqa.

The Syrian government’s forces and allied forces want to take Deir ez-Zor. They also expect that control of Raqqa will be transferred to the government of Syria. If the US-backed SDF declines to transfer control to the Syrian government, the civil war will enter another new phase.

As the Islamic State declines, the alliances of convenience are breaking. There will be more clashes as the government asserts its right to rule and looks beyond the destruction of the Islamic State.

About NightWatch: There has been a bit of confusion as to what NightWatch is so I've been asked to this little note. NightWatch is a subscription service that is sent by email on weekdays. NightWatch tracks and assesses global threats to U.S. national security. It's patterned after briefings for the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and applies proven analysis techniques to open source information to identify and assess the impact of war, global internal instability, and terrorism (These techniques are described from time to time, I will include them when they come up in the reports). NightWatch maintains at least 97% accuracy for its judgments (This is checked at the end of every months and end of every year). Note that I will only include articles related to Syria.


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