Author: Samuel Osborne
Israel’s defence minister has threatened to destroy Syria’s air defence systems if they are used to target Israeli fighter jets again.
The Israeli military said it shot down one of several anti-aircraft rockets fired at its warplanes by Syria last week in the most serious military exchange between the two hostile neighbours in recent years.
Air force officials said four Israeli jets on a mission to destroy a weapons convoy destined for the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah were attacked by three Syrian surface-to-air missiles, one of which was intercepted by the Israeli Aerial Defence System known as “Arrow.”
“The next time the Syrians use their air defence systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Avigdor Lieberman said in remarks broadcast on Israeli public radio.
Damascus claimed one of the jets was shot down in Israeli-controlled territory and another was hit – a claim the Israeli military denied, saying none of the jets had been hit.
Israel had carried out strikes near Palmyra to help “Isis terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which the Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organisations”, a Syrian army statement said.
Most Israeli air strikes in Syrian territory over the last few years have been aimed at preventing weapons from being smuggled to Hezbollah, which fights alongside the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against rebel forces.
While the Israel Defence Force (IDF) does not comment on the nature of its operations, Hezbollah, like Iran, is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.
In highly unusual comments confirming the operation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Our policy is very consistent. When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, and we have the intelligence and the operational capability, we act to prevent that. That is what was and that is what will be.”
Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering only sporadic incidents of spillover fire that it has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Assad’s forces.
It has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.
The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing the regime’s forces and a US-led coalition striking Isis and al-Qaeda targets.