Two days after Syria claimed it had shot down an Israel jet over its territory on Friday morning, an incident Israel denied even if it admitted violating Syria’s sovereign airspace by engaging in an air raid near Palmyra, the Israeli defense minister threatened to destroy Syrian air defenses after they shot (but allegedly did not down) at Israeli warplanes, which violated Syrian airspace and bombed targets on Syrian soil.
“Next time, if the Syrian aerial defense apparatus acts against our planes, we will destroy it,” Avigdor Lieberman told Israeli Public Radio on Sunday, in a statement which seemed to lend credence to the Syrian contention that it had taken down an Israel jet.
#BREAKING Israeli minister threatens to destroy Syrian air defence systems
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 19, 2017
It was not exactly clear why Israel was so offended by Syria “acting against” its planes which were located above Syrian airspace at the time of shooting. In any case he warned that “we won’t hesitate. Israel’s security is above everything else; there will be no compromise.”
An Israeli F-15 fighter jet
The minister was referring to the previously reported morning raid of the Israeli Air Force, the latest of several reported over the past few years, in which Israel claimed it targeted weapons bound for the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah. Israel says it has to protect itself from advanced weapons which the militants try to obtain from the Syrian government. Syria shot surface-to-air S-200 missiles at the Israeli planes as they were flying back from the night mission. As noted above, Damascus claims it shot down one of the planes, although Israel still denies.
The Israeli media said one of the Syrian missiles was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow air defense system. According to RT, it was the first time Israel officials have confirmed combat use of the advanced anti-missiles, which are originally meant to intercept heavy long-range ballistic missiles. The Israeli military is investigating whether the decision to fire Arrow interceptors against the Syrian anti-aircraft missiles was justified, according to Haaretz.
The former prime minister and defense minister, Ehud Barak, said Saturday that the involvement of the system forced Israel to acknowledge cross-border military activity. “It could be that with more thorough thought, it wasn’t worth firing,” Barak said at a community lecture in Be’er Sheva. “We have usually tended to reserve what would be called ‘room for denial’ for Syrian President [Bashar] Assad,” he added.
While Israeli acknowledgment of an intervention in Syria is rare, it is not unprecedented. Last April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed for the first time that an attack on dozens of Hezbollah targets in Syria was indeed conducted by Israeli warplanes, as speculated by the media.
And, perhaps to give Syria just the opportunity to “provoke” it, on Monday morning, according to several media reports Israel has again bombed a Hezbollah convoy in Syria. It was unclear as of publication time if Syria had retaliated.