The appalling test use of the Su-57 on Syrian civilians (& Jewish grandmother sentenced to death in Iran)

February 27, 2018



[Note by Tom Gross]

I have cited the appalling situation in the bombed, starved and besieged Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on many occasions on this Middle East dispatch list since 2011, and also run dramatic photos, such as this one last year from Agence France-Presse.

In recent days, the plight of the 400,000 people trapped in Eastern Ghouta has finally become headline news on media such as the BBC.

Yet the BBC reports this week makes it sound as though the plight of Eastern Ghouta only started a few days ago.

(Eastern Ghouta is the suburb where President Assad killed over 1,400 Syrian civilians using chemical weapons in 2013, leading President Obama to back down from his “red line” warning, and as Obama absented himself, Iran and Russia stepped in. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed since, and millions driven into exile. There have been countless deaths in the last five years in Eastern Ghouta, through enforced starvation, bombing and other means, but the international media has generally ignored this.)



Even in their reports today, the BBC and other media, while highlighting the Syrian and Russian government role in the murder taking place there, again cover up for the central Iranian role. The Iranian regime is at the heart of directing ground operations around eastern Ghouta (and in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria) through its revolutionary guards and thousands of Shia militia it has formed and sent to Syria.

This media misreporting continues a pattern of downplaying the appalling and worsening human rights abuse by the Iranian government both at home and abroad (led by a president the BBC and New York Times have repeatedly and misleadingly claimed is “moderate”). As predicted, Iran has used much of the billions of dollars handed to them by the Obama-Kerry deal with the regime, to increase its military presence and build bases in Syria and several other Middle East countries.



Meanwhile as the rest of the media finally reported on the situation in Ghouta, this past weekend’s international edition of The Financial Times didn’t have one word on Ghouta, but instead continues to denigrate Israel both on its front page political story and in its largest article on its comment page.

Another important aspect not being highlighted in the western media reports on the indiscriminate bombing of Ghouta is the incredible choice by Russia to use its Su-57 stealth fighters, its most advanced new fighter plane. The plane is designed to take out high-value well-shielded military targets defended by multiple anti-aircraft batteries of the kind that don’t exist in eastern Ghouta. Instead Russia’ is testing its new Su-57s by dropping tons of explosives on the civilian population, including hospitals, and schools.

As the Haaretz commentary attached below makes clear:

“There is no other conceivable reason to send the Su-57 to Syria other than for Putin’s greater glory. The family in Eastern Ghouta buried alive by the shock wave released by one of its bombs will never know they were the first-ever civilian target of a stealth fighter – but at least they’ll have provided action footage for Russian television.”


Among other recent dispatches on Syria:

In case you’ve lost track… (& Putin’s private army)



The second article below concerns a Jewish grandmother, sentenced to death in Iran for “violating Islamic rules,” but refused asylum in Holland.

Meanwhile, Rasmeah Odeh, a convicted Palestinian terrorist (she murdered two shoppers in a Jerusalem bomb attack) who was deported from U.S. last year, has been invited by Dutch lawmakers to speak in Amsterdam.

-- Tom Gross




Putin’s Newest Stealth Fighters Are Nonoperational. So Why Deploy Them to Syria?
By Anshel Pfeffer
February 26, 2018

“The Russian Air Force doesn’t need the Sukhoi 57 to bomb more civilians in Syria. But on an election year, it looks good on television screens back home”

In times of war, new weapons are often rushed to the front and pressed into service before they have been properly tested. There is little choice, and any operational edge can be critical on the battlefield. The Russian Federation, however, is not fighting a war at present – just a low-intensity conflict in Syria, where its aircraft are indiscriminately bombing rebel enclaves, killing hundreds of civilians weekly. It is beating them into submission so the ground forces of its protégé, President Bashar Assad, and his proxy allies can eventually regain territory.

There is no military justification for Russia to deploy its most advanced and – so far at least – nonoperational stealth fighter jet to Syria. And yet last week Russia sent four Sukhoi Su-57s to its Khmeimim air base in Syria.

The Su-57 first flew eight years ago, in January 2010. And just like other new weapons systems, its development has been long and arduous. From all available information, only 10 flyable prototypes have been produced so far, and deliveries to Sukhoi’s main customer – the Russian Air Force – have yet to take place. With an aerodynamic shape and coated in radar-absorbent materials that greatly reduce its radar cross-section, it is intended to be the first stealth fighter in Russian service.

So why has Moscow taken the unprecedented step of sending four of its valuable prototypes to Syria, disrupting the flight-test program, even before the Su-57 reached initial operational capability (IOC)?

There is simply no military justification for the deployment. Like other stealth fighters, the Su-57 carries its weapons load within internal bays to minimize its radar signature. This limits the number of air-to-ground munitions it can carry (since it will be carrying air-to-air missiles for self-defense), making it ineffective for bombing runs over Eastern Ghouta and Idlib.

On an airstrike mission, stealth fighters are optimized to take out high-value targets defended by multiple anti-aircraft batteries, utilizing their evasive features to penetrate defenses and carry out precision strikes. All these advanced capabilities are superfluous on a routine Russian sortie over Syria, which consists of dropping tons of explosives on hospitals and bakeries.

Rebel groups in Syria have little in the way of anti-aircraft defenses. The best they can muster is a handful of Soviet-era, Strela shoulder-launched missiles with which they have scored some successes against low-flying regime and Russian aircraft. But this has hardly deterred the Russians, who usually bomb from altitudes well beyond the Strela’s range. The Su-57 is hardly necessary against such puny resistance.

Some experts have advanced the explanation that the Su-57 is being deployed in order to train air and maintenance crews, and provide them with combat experience on the new jet. But this hardly makes sense at this stage in the aircraft’s development, before it has even been supplied to squadrons back in Russia. They still lack the most basic knowledge of stealth operations and will need many months, if not years, to acquire the know-how to use these aircraft efficiently overseas.

Another theory raised in recent days – that the Su-57s are to counter another U.S. airstrike against Russian mercenaries in Eastern Syria, such as the one earlier this month where as many as 200 of them are reported to have been killed – is even more outlandish. The United States, should it be confronted, has far superior forces to bear in the region, including its own stealth F-22 fighters; four prototypes, never tested in real-life scenarios, will be no match. The last thing the Kremlin is planning is to risk the humiliation of its most advanced jet being shot down over Syria.

Deploying nearly half of Sukhoi’s prototypes to Syria will not only cause months of delay in the test program, as the flights taking place there will be of little use since they won’t be carried out in the necessary conditions and with calibrated telemetry instruments. It also risks exposing some of the aircraft’s unique capabilities. Every radar system within 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) range of Khmeimim – there are a lot of them, and you can be certain that more were flown out there by NATO over the weekend – will be focused on detecting the Su-57 and acquiring readings of its radar and sensors signatures.

The Su-57 deployment to Syria smacks of the same kind of motivation that made the Russians send their single aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, to the Mediterranean in November 2016. The Russians boasted that in the short time it sailed off the Syrian coast, its aircraft attacked “a thousand targets.” However, Western intelligence services tracking the operation believe the fighter jets on the Kuznetsov’s decks lacked even the range to carry out a single full carrier-based mission – launching from the ship with a bombload and returning there after completion. It was an exercise in public relations with scant military value, and at the cost of two fighter jets that crashed into the sea.

But at least the Kuznetsov is a veteran vessel that should be put through its paces at sea. The Su-57 is still brand new, and exposing it to harm in Syria makes less sense. That is, until you check out Russia’s domestic political calendar.

The Syrian campaign is losing popularity back home and in three weeks the Russians will vote in a presidential election. There’s no way President Vladimir Putin will lose – he has no serious challengers, anyway. But the campaign itself needs rousing images to deliver not just victory but a resounding landslide and a chorus of nationalism befitting a czar. And what better image than Russia’s newest jet bombing the enemy to oblivion?

There is no other conceivable reason to send the Su-57 to Syria other than for Putin’s greater glory. The family in East Ghouta buried alive by the shock wave released by one of its bombs will never know they were the first-ever civilian target of a stealth fighter – but at least they’ll have provided action footage for Russian television.



This Jewish grandmother was sentenced to death in Iran. Holland won’t grant her asylum.
By Cnaan Liphshiz
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
February 23, 2018

Convicted of “violating Islamic rules,” 60-year-old Sipora is an illegal immigrant in the Netherlands, but fears immigrating to Israel would endanger her husband back in Tehran.

UTRECHT, Netherlands (JTA) — To the dozens of revelers of this city’s main Purim party, a Jewish grandmother who cooks the event’s annual Persia-themed holiday feast is a rare communal asset.

Since she immigrated to the Netherlands in 2012 from her native Iran, the soft-spoken newcomer has been volunteering with the local Chabad House, preparing delicious traditional dishes with exotic spices, such as saffron-flavored yellow rice and chicken, for Utrecht’s celebration of the holiday.

Her contribution has added prestige to the event, which has been featured in regional and national media thanks to the authentic touch she adds. (After all, the story behind Purim is set in Persia, celebrating the rescue of that country’s Jews from a communal death sentence.)

But only a few of the locals who know Sipora (not her real name) are aware that she is both an illegal alien in the Netherlands and a refugee with a death sentence hanging over her own head in Iran for political offenses.

Sipora, 60, was sentenced in absentia to death by public execution in 2013 by a Tehran court that convicted her of “violating Islamic rules [of the] Islamic Revolution” and “anti-regime activity.” Her crime: running an underground organization that found housing solutions for women with abusive husbands who could not obtain a divorce.

Luckily for Sipora, she had already left Iran a year prior to her sentencing to help with the pregnancy of her daughter — herself a political refugee who has been living in the Netherlands since fleeing her native land in 2010. Sipora’s daughter, Rebecca, fled in connection with her involvement in the making of a documentary film about the fight for democracy in Iran.

“A few weeks after I came to Holland, I called my husband on the telephone. He asked me to go on Skype. I knew something was wrong,” Sipora recalled.

Sipora’s husband of over 40 years, a Jewish building contractor with a heart condition, told her online that Iran’s dreaded secret police were looking for her and other members of her group.

“In that moment I knew there is no going back,” Sipora recalled.

Unfortunately for her, Sipora’s legal troubles back home coincided with a toughening of immigration policies in the Netherlands, where the center-right ruling party is bleeding votes in favor of the anti-Islam Party for Freedom, which favors a shutdown of immigration from Muslim countries.

Rebecca received a temporary residency permit and later citizenship without delay even though she had no death sentence against her in Iran. Meanwhile, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service has consistently declined requests by Sipora two years later. Instead, she is in legal limbo — neither granted asylum nor deported, despite her whereabouts being known to authorities.

The Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service did not reply to a query from JTA about Sipora’s status.

A teacher of Persian who speaks neither Dutch nor English, Sipora lives with her daughter and grandson in relative social isolation and uncertainty. Her eyes well with tears as she explains through an interpreter that she is getting used to the thought of never again hugging her husband.

Yet Sipora has no regrets over helping the abused wives for whom she found shelter — sometimes inside nearly finished apartments constructed by her husband, a building contractor.

“I would do the same thing all over again,” Sipora said. “For all my problems now I have family who care for me. These women have no one, only enemies hounding them, and no rights before the law.”

Following the latest crackdown on alleged opposition activists in Iran, Sipora’s husband told her he is under close watch and unlikely to be allowed to leave the country. This is part of the reason that Sipora does not want to immigrate to Israel, or make aliyah, though she is eligible for it.

“I could leave for Israel tomorrow, but then my husband’s fate is sealed,” Sipora said. “For a Jewish family to flee for Holland is one thing, but if I go to Israel he will pay the price for what will be seen as collaboration with the enemy.”

Even her involvement with Chabad did not go unnoticed in Tehran, Sipora said.

Secret police in 2016 confronted Sipora’s husband with pictures featuring Sipora from the Chabad Purim feast, he told her. They demanded he explain why his wife is “working with a Zionist organization. He answered that she was representing Persian Jewish culture in Holland and that Iran should be proud of it.

Trapped in her predicament, Sipora’s only comfort is being with her 5-year-old grandson and her daughter. But this is no remedy against sleepless nights and a constant sense of foreboding, she said, especially before reporting to Dutch authorities as she must do periodically. She could be deported as an illegal alien at any moment. Sipora’s next appearance before an immigration service judge is scheduled for March 2.

Outwardly, though, Sipora puts on a brave face, according to Erik Veldhuizen, who also volunteers at the Chabad House where Sipora is preparing the annual feast.

“She’s a positive and polite person,” he told JTA. “A few of us are of course aware of her situation, but you’d never know that she’s in dire straits by her demeanor.”

Back home, Sipora is discussing her grandson’s Purim costume options with him as a welcome distraction from the fears and doubts surrounding her.

“Just like in Purim, it will all work out in the end,” her daughter tells her. “It just has to.”


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.