The Syrian area of Quneitra is seen in the background as an out-of-commission Israeli tank parks on a hill, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights..
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Israeli jets have struck hundreds of targets in Syria for the past five years, returning safely to base after facing no resistance.
Since January 2013, Israel has acknowledged 100 air strikes targeting Hezbollah terrorists, weapon convoys and infrastructure, and it is believed to be behind dozens more, including on early Tuesday morning against a military installation in the al-Qutayfa area east of Damascus.
According to a statement by Syria’s General Command, the regime’s air defenses not only intercepted all of the missiles fired by Israel, but its air defenses even hit one of the jets, a claim made dozens of times by the Syrian regime following alleged Israeli strikes.
While Syria usually refrains from commenting on alleged Israeli strikes and on threats to further strikes, the recent success of the Syrian Army – taking back over 70% of the country from rebels, including the Syrian-held part of the Golan in late December – has upped the regime’s confidence.
While the IDF has not officially commented on the strike, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to it during a lunch with NATO ambassadors in Jerusalem.
“We have a long-standing policy to prevent the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah from Syrian territory. This policy has not changed. We back it up as necessary with action,” he said.
Syria’s air defenses are largely Russian, with SA-2s, SA-5s, and SA-6s as well as the more sophisticated tactical surface-to-air missiles such as the SA-17s and SA-22 systems.
And while the majority of it has been neglected during the war, Russia has deployed the advanced mobile S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft batteries, which are capable of engaging multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles at a distance of up to 380 kilometers, covering virtually all of Syria as well as significant parts of Israel and neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan.
Social media video of explosions near Syria's Damascus airport, April 27, 2017 (REUTERS)
The Russian S-300 and S-400 have not been used against Israeli jets, but the Syrian air defenses have been, including in March when Israeli jets carrying out air strikes against several targets in Syria were targeted with three anti-aircraft missiles with a 200 kilogram warhead.
The Syrian missiles were shot down by the Arrow advanced missile defense system in the first usage of the system in a combat situation.
It was without a doubt the most serious incident between Israel and Syria since the outbreak of the disastrous civil war, which has recently turned in favor of President Bashar Assad thanks to Russia’s intervention and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias such as Hezbollah.
Iranian entrenchment on the Golan Heights, an area of key strategic importance, has concerned Israel since the start of the conflict, and on Tuesday the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, warned of the proliferation of accurate Iranian missiles in the Middle East.
“The Iranians are coasting into the Middle East undisturbed and with very large forces, in a way that virtually creates an air and land corridor that pours fighters into the region in order to actualize the Iranian vision,” he said at a Finance Ministry event in Jerusalem, adding that “we hear the concerns from Sunni leaders about Iran are growing, just as they are in Israel. We are hearing it from everywhere.”
In early December, Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer reiterated Israel’s position and accused Iran of stoking tensions in Syria. Speaking to Politico, Dermer warned: “If Iran is not rolled back in Syria, then the chances of military confrontation are growing. I don’t want to tell you by the year or by the month. I’d say even by the week,” he said.
“Because the more they push, we have to enforce our redlines, and you always have the prospects of an escalation, even when parties don’t want an escalation. So in taking action to defend ourselves, you don’t know what could happen. But I think it’s higher than people think.”
Israel’s aerial superiority in the Middle East has been an essential component of its defense strategy for decades, and while Israeli jets are still in control of the skies over Syria, it is only a matter of time before luck runs out.