Early on January 20, four F-16 fighter jets of the Israeli Air Force, without entering the Syrian airspace attacked military facilities in the area of Damascus International Airport with several air-to-surface missiles from the side of neighboring Lebanon. Israel’s Defense Forces spokesman said that the attack targeted an arms depot of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force.
The Syrian air defense systems threw up fire, which eliminated most of Israeli missiles in the air. Meanwhile, certain facilities were seriously damaged. According to the data provided by Russia’s Center in Hmeimim, four Syrian servicemen were killed in the strike.
Previously, the Israeli air defense forces knocked down a missile fired from the Syrian territory toward Israel on the occupied Golan Heights. The Israeli provided no information about the firing position’s location, identity and other data about the missile.
During an official visit to Chad on January 20, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu said that the army would always use force for preventing Iran’s military presence in Syria and fighting against weapons provision to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group. That is this year’s second Israeli air attack against Syria, the first was on January 12, 2019.
The Israeli Air Force has raided Syria around 250 times since the Syrian crisis started in early 2011. In most cases, the Israeli targeted Iranian military assets deep inside Syrian territory. Commanders of Russian troops in Syria have repeatedly warned the Israeli against actions dangerous for Russian facilities.
Up until recently, the Israeli side ignored consultations of a four-sided (Russia, the US, Israel and Jordan) group of aviation experts in Amman aimed at coordinating actions of national air forces to prevent airborne and other accidents. As it was agreed, the sides are obliged to inform each other beforehand and in detail about planned flights and tasks of combat air forces.
A series of actions conducted by the Russian command to fortify Syrian air defense forces, including the supplies of S-300 ‘Favorit’ surface-to-air missile systems, have substantially reduced the frequency of attacks of the Israeli combat aviation through the Syrian sky. Currently the Israeli haven given up the idea to enter the Syrian airspace, launching missiles over Lebanon instead.
That being said, the Israeli aviation actions can be increasingly referred to as ‘on slippery ground’: air strikes are conducted during civil flights of foreign airlines. That has been officially stated by Russia’s Defense Ministry.
Meanwhile, it is quite fair to assume that nonetheless, in order to avoid casualties among military personnel the Russian side warns its Syrian ally about expected actions of the Israeli. Whereas, the Israeli are not particularly interested in causing a heavy toll on the opposing side either: it is more important for Israel to destroy the flow of weapons from Iran for the Lebanese military and political party Hezbollah. It appears that the sides use the present situation in a bid to check the efficiency of their anti-aircraft and offensive defenses in a real war.
Those actions may be described as ‘strange’. However, they meet the interests of leading ‘players’.