Israeli warplanes strike weapons site in Syria
Syria fires missiles in nations’ worst clash of civil war.
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.’
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.