The Pentagon released information Thursday that some of the cruise missiles launched by Russian warships into Syria the day before (Wednesday, 7 October) had crashed in Iran, instead of making it to their targets. The missiles were launched from the Caspian Sea, between Iran and southern Russia.
The global audience was apt to note the point that four of the 26 missiles launched by Russia crashed. But the more important point is that Russia launched the missiles in the first place.
The question is why. The answer is not darkly nefarious (not particularly, anyway), but it’s not obvious from the standpoint of tactical military operations either.
The Syria situation
The stage can be set with the background that Russia, the Syrian regime forces, and Iranian forces deployed to Syria started a major offensive against rebel groups this week. The strongest push appears to be in the major north-south line of communication (LOC) between Aleppo and Homs, anchored by Idlib and Hama. This area has little to no Islamic State (ISIS) presence. The rebels under attack there belong to the Free Syrian Army, the Al-Nusra Front, and other minor groups.
The push also features a less concentrated assault in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa Province, including a campaign to recapture portions of Deir Ez-Zor which were lost to ISIS over the past year. This latter effort appears to be especially close to the hearts of Syrian regime supporters. The Syrian forces are in the lead on the ground.
In fact, a quip from Syrian General Issam Zahreddine, commanding the forces in Deir Ez-Zor, went viral among excited regime fans on the 7th: ISIS, he said, is closer to Hell than to Deir Ez-Zor airport. He promised the airport wouldn’t fall.