In a recent incident in the Levant, the French Air & Space Force (AAE) raised concerns over the behavior of a Russian Su-35 “Flanker-E” fighter jet in relation to two French Rafale aircraft.
The French General Staff (EMA) denounced the incident on July 6, 2023, denouncing the unprofessional methods of the Russian pilot.
According to the EMA, the incident occurred on the Iraqi-Syrian border during a protection mission undertaken by the French Rafales. The Su-35 approached the French aircraft in a manner deemed too close and unprofessional.
“The Rafales had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a situation that would have been dangerous,” an EMA spokesperson told AeroTime.
In support of their statement, the EMA released a photograph of the Russian fighter captured by the Optronique Secteur Frontal (OSF) onboard optoelectronics system, which showed its proximity to the Rafales.
Recurring tensions in the Middle East
French forces, including fighter jets such as the Rafale, have been deployed to the region to conduct precision airstrikes on ISIS targets and provide close air support to ground forces as part of Operation Chammal.
Operation Chammal is the French military’s participation in Operation Inherent Resolve, a multinational effort to combat the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). France’s involvement in the mission began in September 2014 at the request of the Iraqi authorities and continues to this day.
This incident occurred 24 hours after three Russian Su-35s reportedly harassed three USAF MQ-9 Reaper drones, setting off flares and forcing the drones to take evasive maneuvers. The UAVs were engaged in a mission against ISIS in Syria at the time.
In late June 2023, the US Air Forces Central (AFCENT) suggested that reckless and aggressive Russian air force behavior in the Middle East could be a compensatory strategy linked to the Ukraine crisis, but one which nevertheless poses a significant risk to troops stationed in the region.
Though he could not comment on a potential spike in reckless behavior by Russian pilots in the region, the EMA spokesperson expressed concern over the occurrence of two similar incidents within a short span of time