An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli airforce pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel December 29, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
The Syrian Army has warned of “dangerous consequences” following an air strike by Israel on a regime SA-5 antiaircraft battery east of Damascus, after it fired a surface-to-air missile at Israeli jets.
Syria’s SANA state news agency reported that the Assad regime “warned of the dangerous repercussions of Israel’s repeated aggression attempts, stressing Syria’s determination to continue its war against the terrorist groups, Israel’s arm in the region.”
According to SANA, the Syrian air defense “directly hit one of the jets, forcing the enemy to retreat,” contradicting Israeli military claims that all planes had returned safely from the operation.
The SA-5 missile battery, which was stationed some 50 kilometers east of the Syrian capital, fired at the Israeli jets which were on a routine aerial reconnaissance flight in Lebanese airspace, IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis stated.
Israel believes that the Syrians fired at the Israeli jets at 10 a.m. Monday after thinking that they intended to attack.
All Israeli aircraft returned safely to base and a few hours later responded by launching four missiles toward the same battery, destroying it.
“We see the Syrian regime as responsible and see these missiles as a clear Syrian provocation, and it will not be accepted,” Manelis stated, adding that while Israel has no intention to enter into the civil war in Syria, Israel will react to all provocations and is prepared for the possibility of retaliation.
“If antiaircraft fire is being carried out for any military activity, we will respond as we did now,” he said on a call with journalists, adding that Russia was updated about the incident in real time and that it would be brought up during the visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who landed in Israel hours after the attack.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met privately with Shoigu at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday evening before being joined by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen.
As ceasefire mostly holds in Syria, Netanyahu says Israel won't tolerate terror front on Golan
Herzl Halevi and the director of the Defense Ministry’s Political- Military Affairs Bureau, Zohar Palti.
“We will not interfere in Syria’s internal affairs, but on the other hand we will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to turn Syria into a forward outpost against Israel, and we will not allow the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Iran through Syria to Lebanon,” Liberman said in a statement.
Shoigu, who is in Israel to discuss the Jewish state’s ongoing concerns regarding Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah by Tehran through Damascus, will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015, and officials from Israel and Russia meet regularly to discuss the deconfliction mechanism implemented over Syria to prevent accidental clashes between the two militaries.
Israel rarely comments on foreign reports of military activity in Syria but has publicly admitted to having struck over 100 Hezbollah targets in Syria, with Netanyahu saying that strikes will continue when “we have information and operational feasibility.”
Netanyahu commented on the attack in Syria on Monday afternoon, hours after it was announced by the IDF.
“Our policy is clear,” he said in a statement. “Anyone who tries to harm us will be hit. Today they tried to hit our planes, which is unacceptable to us.” Netanyahu said the IAF acted with “precision and speed” and “destroyed what needed to be destroyed. We will continue to act as is needed to protect Israel’s security.”
During an IAF operation in March to strike a Hezbollah arms convoy in Syria, regime air defense fired three surface-to-air missiles toward IAF jets. It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the war in Syria began six years ago.
Following the incident, Liberman warned against any further launching of missiles by the Syrian regime, threatening to destroy all Syrian air defenses.
According to the IDF, the SA-5 missile battery destroyed by Israeli jets on Monday was the same that fired at Israeli jets in March, prompting Israel make use of its Arrow antimissile system for the first time. The Syrians claimed at the time that one Israeli jet had been shot down and another damaged, a claim strongly denied by the IDF.
The Arrow system, which has been operational since 2000, was designed to intercept heavy, longrange ground-to-ground ballistic missiles, and updates to the system have expanded its capabilities to also intercept medium-range missiles and rockets.
In January, the IAF officially took delivery of the first Arrow-3 interceptor, the most advanced Arrow system, which is designed to provide ultimate air defense by intercepting ballistic missiles when they are still outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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