An IAF F-15I fighter jet.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israel Air Force struck two targets near Damascus early on Wednesday morning, Arabic-language media reported.
The IDF has neither confirmed nor denied the strikes, as is the policy regarding foreign reports on purported Israeli strikes, but Syrian state TV accused Israel of being behind the overnight air raids.
According to reports, one of the targets was an arms convoy belonging to Hezbollah on the Damascus-Beirut highway, and the other was a Syrian Army site in Damascus. Continued from Page 1 The London-based Rai al-Youm newspaper reported that Israel struck an arsenal belonging to the Syrian Army’s Fourth Battalion.
Hezbollah’s Al-Maydeen channel confirmed the report of the strikes, saying it was an attempt to lift the spirits of “terrorist organizations” (groups fighting the Assad regime) and “divert attention away from the successes of the Syrian Arab Army.”
According to news agencies affiliated with the regime, the Israeli planes, operating in Lebanese airspace, launched the air strikes at dawn toward the town of As-Saboura. There were no reported injuries as four large explosions were heard.
As an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Moscow finds itself part of an alliance between Damascus and Tehran, the patron of Hezbollah.
Up until the Russian intervention in Syria, Israel enjoyed air superiority in the Middle East. But with the deployment of S-300 and S-400 mobile antiaircraft batteries capable of engaging multiple aircraft and ballistic missiles up to 380 kilometers away, Moscow has restricted the operational freedom of Israel’s air force.
If the reports that Wednesday’s strikes were carried out from Lebanese airspace are true, it is possible that Israel is trying to get around the missile batteries. But, despite the restrictions, Israel allegedly struck targets in Syria after Russia deployed the S-400 to Khmeimim Air Base southeast of the Mediterranean Syrian city of Latakia, and if Israel deemed the convoy to be too high of a priority not to hit, it may have taken the opportunity to carry out the strike despite the threat of the S-300 and S-400s.
As both Russia and Israel carry out military operations, as reported, in war-torn Syria, the two have implemented a system over Syria to coordinate their actions in order to avoid accidental clashes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met on several occasions, and Netanyahu is said to have reiterated to Putin “clear and understandable” redlines requiring Israel to act to prevent “game-changing weaponry” from getting into the hands of Hezbollah.
In April, Netanyahu admitted for the first time that the IDF had carried out strikes in Syrian territory, saying, “We will not agree to the supply of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah from Syria and Lebanon. We will not agree to the creation of a second terror front on the Golan Heights. These are the redlines that we have set, and they remain the redlines of the State of Israel.”
The border with Syria has been tense since the war there erupted in 2011, and while Israel has never publicly admitted to carrying out any strikes, it is suspected of carrying out occasional retaliatory attacks on Syria after stray rockets or mortar rounds hit Israeli territory.
Earlier in the week, Israeli jets struck a terrorist cell on the Syrian third of the Golan Heights affiliated with Islamic State, after its members fired small arms and a mortar across the border at an IDF unit. Four terrorists were killed, while no IDF soldiers were hurt.
It was the first clash between the IDF and an Islamic State-linked group: An air force missile silenced the fire by destroying a vehicle carrying four operatives from the Islamic State-linked Khaled Ibn al-Walid Brigade (formerly known as the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade) who had opened fire at a Golani Brigade patrol on the southern Golan Heights.
“Israel will not let Islamic State or any other hostile organization use the chaos of the war in Syria to set up shop on Israel’s northern border,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.