Israel could ‘destroy Syrian air-defence’, Russia looking away

Tensions escalated between Israel and Syria when Israeli jets fired two missiles from Lebanese airspace towards the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus. Syria responded by firing several Russian S-200 missiles at Israeli Air Force jets, bombing targets in Syria, allegedly near a military installation in Palmyra.

Over the six years of the Syrian conflict, Israel carried out numerous airstrikes against what they say are Hezbollah targets. Until now the government has refused to acknowledge or deny them. The latest incident on 17 March was the first time Israel acknowledged an attack.

According to the State of Israel the attack was targeting weapons shipments headed toward anti-Israeli forces, specifically Lebanese Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian government and a fierce enemy of Israel.

“You have to understand the context, if we strike there is a real reason for it,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said. He added that Israel “will not hesitate” to destroy Syria’s air defence systems if Israeli fighter jets are ever targeted again.

Lieberman also stated their position on the Syrian conflict as neither in favour nor against Assad. Yet, he added that there would be no compromise on weapons transfers from Syria to Hezbollah, threatening that Israel will destroy Syrian air defence systems if they are used again by the Syrian regime against Israeli jets targeting ‘smuggling weapons’.

A week before the Israeli attacks in Syria, Vladimir Putin and Netanyahu had met in Moscow to discuss Syria. The region where Israeli Air Force jets struck is protected by more advanced Russian air defence systems but the jets were only targeted by the Syrian army’s air defence systems. This might indicate that there is an understanding with Russia over Israeli operations within the area.