Is­raeli war­planes strike weapons site in Syria

Syria fires mis­siles in na­tions’ worst clash of civil war.

Austin American-Statesman - - NEWS - Is­abel Ker­sh­ner ©2017 The New York Times

The Syr­ian JERUSALEM — armed forces fired anti-air­craft mis­siles at Is­raeli war­planes that had struck tar­gets deep in Syria early Fri­day, in what ap­peared to be the most se­ri­ous clash be­tween the two mil­i­taries since the start of the Syr­ian civil war six years ago.

The Syr­ian army’s Gen­eral Com­mand as­serted that its forces downed one of four Is­raeli air­craft that con­ducted op­er­a­tions around the an­cient city of Palmyra, and hit an­other, the Syr­ian state news agency SANA re­ported. The Is­raeli mili- tary de­nied that claim, say­ing in a state­ment that “at no point was the safety of Is­raeli civil­ians or the IAF air- craft com­pro­mised,” re­fer­ring to the Is­raeli air force.

Anti-As­sad ac­tivists ridiculed the Syr­ian army’s claim, shar­ing a post on so­cial me­dia show­ing the “ev­i­dence”: a pho­to­graph of a pa­per plane, singed at the edges, with crude draw­ings of a Star of David on its wings.

A few months ago, Syria claimed, falsely, to have downed an Is­raeli war­plane and a drone with sur­face- to-air mis­siles dur­ing a bor- der clash.

This time, how­ever, the Syr­ian mis­siles set off Is­raeli air raid sirens and aerial de­fense sys­tems in the Jor­dan Val­ley, and the Is­raeli mil­i­tary said its Ar­row air de­fense sys­tem had in­ter­cepted one of the mis­siles that ap­peared to be head- ing to­ward Is­raeli ter­ri­tory — the first con­firmed op­er­a­tional use of that anti-mis­sile sys­tem.

While the I sraeli air­craft may have es­caped un­scathed, the sirens and ex­plo­sions served to thrust Is­rael’s years­long shadow war in Syria un­com­fort­ably into the lime­light.

Is­rael has re­peat­edly de­clared its neu­tral­ity in the strug­gle be­tween Pres- ident Bashar As­sad of Syria and rebel forces. At the same time, it has been car­ry­ing out a covert cam­paign to pre­vent the trans­fer of so­phis­ti­cated weapons from Syr­ian ter­ri­tory to Hezbol­lah, the mil­i­tant Le­banese Shi- ite or­ga­ni­za­tion that is aid- ing As­sad, and against which Is­rael fought a fierce month- long war in 2006.

While Is­rael has made no se­cret of its pol­icy of act­ing to pre­vent such trans­fers of weapons, it had thus far as­sid­u­ously re­fused to con- firm or deny in­volve­ment in any par­tic­u­lar strikes, pre­fer­ring to main­tain am­bigu- ity in the hope of low­er­ing the pres­sure on the other side to re­tal­i­ate.

The only strikes Is­rael had been will­ing to ac­knowl- edge car­ry­ing out were those against Syr­ian posi- tions near the frontier on the Golan Heights in re­tali- ation for spillover from the Syr­ian civil war into Is­rae- li-held ter­ri­tory.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary did not elab­o­rate on the pre- cise lo­ca­tion or na­ture of the weapons stores it struck on Fri­day, ei­ther, but the sirens and ex­plo­sions heard by civil­ians in the Jor­dan Val­ley — and even in parts of Jerusalem — de­manded some sort of an ex­pla­na­tion.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary stated la­con­i­cally, but un­usu­ally, that its war­planes had “tar- geted sev­eral tar­gets in Syria.”

SANA, cit­ing a state­ment from the Syr­ian army’s Gen­eral Com­mand, said the strikes had hit a mil­i­tary site near Palmyra, in the eastern coun­try­side of Homs prov- ince. De­scrib­ing the in­cur- sion as a “bla­tant Is­raeli act of ag­gres­sion,” the state­ment ac­cused Is­rael of act­ing to sup­port Is­lamic State group “ter­ror­ist gangs” to raise their morale in their fight against the pro-As­sad forces and di­vert at­ten­tion from Syr­ian army vic­to­ries.

Syr­ian army of­fi­cials ac­cused Is­rael of act­ing to sup­port Is­lamic State group ‘ter­ror­ist gangs.’

ARIEL SCHALIT / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS 2016

An Is­raeli Air Force F-15 plane flies dur­ing a De­cem­ber cer­e­mony. The Is­raeli mil­i­tary did not elab­o­rate on the lo­ca­tion of the weapons stores it struck Fri­day in Syria. Is­rael has been car­ry­ing out a cam­paign to pre­vent the trans­fer of weapons from Syr­ian ter­ri­tory to Hezbol­lah, a mil­i­tant Le­banese Shi­ite or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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