The Russian military took time out from its invasion of Ukraine to run a joint air-force drill over Syria on Tuesday.
Syria-Russia alliance on Israel’s northern border
In a statement, Syria’s Defense Ministry announced that two Russian SU-35 fighter jets and six Syrian MiG-23 and MiG-29 aircraft simulated facing “hostile” warplanes and drones. The Syrian pilots engaged with the “enemy” in the exercise while the Russian warplanes afforded them cover.
“All elusive targets were monitored and completely destroyed while aerial targets were hit at night for the first time,” the Syrian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The Syrian Defense Ministry said that the Russian and Syrian warplanes carried out joint patrols along the Golan Heights and other parts of southern Syria during Tuesday’s drill.
Israeli attacks in Syria
The drill came just hours after an airstrike hit the southern part of Damascus in an attack the Syrians attributed to Israel. Syrian state TV quoted an unnamed military official saying that air defense systems were activated in the capital against “hostile targets,” and most of the Israeli missiles were shot down.
The last time Syria reported an Israeli attack was two weeks ago, when five people were killed near Damascus in a surface-to-surface missile attack.
In February, Russia deployed MiG-31K fighter jets with hypersonic Kinzhal missiles and long-range Tupolev Tu-22M strategic bombers to its air base in Syria for naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean.
Until now, Israel has carried out airstrikes against Iranian and Hezbullah military targets in Syria with the Russian military’s tacit permission, which maintains sophisticated anti-air systems that control the skies over Syria. But the Israeli government has been forced to play a dangerous balancing act in its involvement in Ukraine, weighing its relations with Russia against its relations with the US and Ukraine.
Russia established a military presence in Syria in 2015 at the request of President Bashar al Assad in the 11-year civil war that has resulted in over half a million deaths and created a humanitarian crisis. Russia currently has a naval base at Tartous and a newly expanded air base at Hmeimim, near Latakia.
Last month, this situation came to a head when Russian forces opened fire on Israeli jets with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles at the end of an alleged IAF attack on targets in northwestern Syria.
Russia as the head of Gog Magog
In recent years, many mystics and rabbis have identified the Biblical nation of Gog with Russia. In February, the Sanhedrin released a statement to that effect:
“There is a tradition for the People of Israel that three world wars will change the history of the world so that the world will be a better place to live in. And these wars are called the Gog and Magog War. Towards a new era called the ‘Days of Messiah.’
“There have been two world wars, and the world has changed for the better, and the People of Israel have returned to their land, but the process is still not complete. The Gaon of Vilna (see below) wrote in the book Maayan Hayeshua: that if the nations of the world return the People of Israel to their land and help build the land, the war of Gog and Magog would be prevented.
“And in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (known as the Chofetz Chaim), it was said that the Third World War would be within twenty-five years of the Second World War. And indeed, we see that the words of the Gaon of Vilna were fulfilled when the Gentiles gave the People of Israel permission to return to the Land of Israel, and Russia played an important part in the establishment of the Israel state in 1948. Due to this action by the nations, World War III was postponed.
“Now we see great tension between Russia and Ukraine, and this is said in the Midrash Rabbah in Genesis 2: 4: “If you see kingdoms provoking one another, look forward to the time of Messiah.”
The Sanhedrin then cited a teaching from Rabbi Elijah .ben Solomon Zalman, an 18th-century rabbinic sage known as the Vilna Gaon, who singled out Russian aggression as a precursor to the Messiah. After being held as “a closely guarded secret” for over 200 years, Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, a great-grandson of the Vilna Gaon, shared the full prophecy publicly for the first time during the holiday of Purim in 2014. The text of the Vilna Gaon’s prophecy was reported by Rabbi Lazer Brody, an American-born Hasidic rabbi from Ashdod.
“When you hear that the Russians have captured the city of Crimea, you should know that the times of the Messiah have started, that his steps are being heard,” the Vilna Gaon told his followers just before his death in 1797.
“And when you hear that the Russians have reached the city of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), you should put on your Shabbat clothes and don’t take them off because it means that the Messiah is about to come any minute.”
The Vilna Gaon’s student, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, added, “When the ships of the kingdom of Russia cross the Dardanelles, you should dress in Shabbat clothes because this means the arrival of the Moshiach is close.”
The Prophet Ezekiel hinted at Russia as a leader in the Gog and Magog War, even though Russia did not exist in Biblical times.
O mortal, turn your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him. Ezekiel 38:2
In this verse, the Hebrew word for ‘chief’ is רֹאשׁ (Rosh), which hints at ‘Russia.’