(photo credit: Courtesy)
For the second time in less than a week, IAF fighter jets were scrambled to the northern border on Thursday after radar systems picked up Syrian helicopters making their way towards Israel.
The jets took off from a base in the North and were ordered to head to the border and if needed intercept the helicopters.
Minutes later, the IAF determined that the Syrian aircraft were not on their way to an attack and the Israeli planes were ordered to return to base.
Since the alleged IAF air strike on a nuclear installation in northern Syria on September 6, tension has been mounting between the two countries, and defense officials said Thursday there was still a chance that the incident could develop into a larger conflict.
Last Saturday, which was Yom Kippur, IAF jets were scrambled when a Syrian military jet disappeared from Israeli radar screens. A short time later, the air force discovered that the enemy jet had crashed in Syria. The IAF jets returned to their bases and the level of alert was lowered.
Meanwhile, Israel emphatically denied a report Thursday that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem Tuesday in New York. The report appeared in A-Sinara, a newspaper published in Nazareth. Moallem also denied any such meeting occurred.
According to the A-Sinara report, the meeting between Livni and Moallem was brokered by Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and received prior approval from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Livni met the Qatari leader earlier this week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meting.
According to A-Sinara, the meeting focused on Israel-Syria tensions and ways of maintaining calm, and was also attended by Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, and the Syrian ambassador to Washington.
But senior government officials in Jerusalem Thursday night denied that any such meeting ever took place. A meeting of this type, it was pointed out, would have necessitated meticulous preparation.
While it is doubtful a Moallem-Livni meeting took place, Moallem did meet on Tuesday with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. According to a statement put out by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moallem backed a Russian idea to hold a "full-format international conference on the Middle East involving all the parties concerned."
Syria has so far been non-committal on whether it would attend a US-sponsored Mideast meeting later this year, even though US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated this week that Syria would get an invitation.
Russia would like to see the proposed US-sponsored Mideast meeting as a prelude to a much wider, full-blown Russian-hosted Middle East conference. The dueling conferences have led to some speculation in Jerusalem that Moscow might press Syria not to take part in the US conference, in order to give more luster to its own planned conference.