Russia: Syrian air defense nearly hit passenger plane after Israeli attack

Passenger plane made emergency landing after coming under fire from Syrian air defenses

An IAF plane takes part in the IDF's 'Blue Flag' exercise. November 5th, 2017 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
An IAF plane takes part in the IDF's 'Blue Flag' exercise. November 5th, 2017
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that an alleged Israeli attack on Syria, which killed at least 23 pro-Iranian fighters late Wednesday night, put a civilian flight with 172 passengers on board at risk.
The Airbus-320, which had been on its descent towards Damascus International Airport, was “escorted out of the danger zone and assisted in landing at Hmeymim airbase,” the spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying by Russia’s TASS news agency.
According to the Russian statement, F-16 jets belonging to the IAF shot eight air-to-ground missiles without entering Syrian airspace. Moscow blamed Israel for using the civilian aircraft “as a shield against Syrian anti-aircraft systems.”
“The Israeli General Staff’s military air operations using passenger jets for cover or [for] blocking of retaliatory fire by Syrian missile systems is becoming a typical trait of the Israeli Air Force,” Konashenkov said.
Konashenkov did not name the airline but data from Flight Radar indicated it was a Syrian Cham Wings plane. The airline could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least three government Iranian positions near Damascus and west of the capital were targeted. Syria’s official SANA news agency said that the IAF strikes came in two waves and hit the al-Kiswah area, as well as Marj al-Sultan and Jisr Baghdad.
The first wave at 1:12 a.m. “targeted some of our military positions in the suburbs of Damascus,” SANA quoted a military source as saying. The second wave at 1:41 a.m. “targeted military positions in the surroundings of Daraa, Quneitra and Damascus countryside with a number of missiles fired by Israeli warplanes from the airspace in Southern Lebanon and the occupied Golan.”
The Syrian Defense Ministry claimed that Syrian air defenses intercepted the Israeli missiles over Damascus that were fired at military targets.
While the IDF does not comment on foreign media reports, Israel has been carrying out a war-between-wars campaign in Syria since 2013, working to prevent the entrenchment of Iranian forces and the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah.
The IAF has admitted to carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the Syrian civil war erupted in March 2011.
Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015. As an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it finds itself part of an alliance between Damascus and Tehran, the patron of Hezbollah. Russia, which views Iran as a key player in resolving the crisis in Syria, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the role that the Islamic Republic plays in the war-torn country.
Israel and Russia have a deconfliction mechanism in place over Syria to minimize the risk of unwanted conflict.  With that, Israel has largely had free rein over the skies of Syria to carry out strikes on targets deemed a threat to the Jewish state.
In September 2018, 15 Russian military personnel were killed when a Ilyushin Il-20 was hit by a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile fired by troops loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an Israeli operation.
Following the incident, Israel admitted to the strike saying it had targeted a Syrian military facility that was set to smuggle systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Tamar Beeri contributed to this report.