The Israeli military said its fighter jets had struck several targets in Syria early Friday, March 17, and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace, when Syria launched several anti-aircraft missiles toward the Israeli jets. Israel’s Arrow air defense missile intercepted one of the missiles, the army said, but would not elaborate on whether any other hostile missiles had struck Israeli territory. The safety of Israeli civilians and the safety of the Israeli aircraft “were not compromised,” the IDF spokesman stressed.
DEBKAfile’s military sources: The official IDF communiqué raises questions. It does not make sense for Israeli Arrow missiles to be aimed at Syrian ground-to-air rockets fired against the Israeli warplanes. The Arrow would only be used to intercept an incoming Syrian or Hizballah ground-to-ground missile heading for a target in Israel.
That too would explain the huge blast that resounded from the eastern Jordan Valley as far as Jerusalem, 150km away in the small hours of Friday.
This explanation gained credibility from the Syrian army account: “A total of four Israeli jets breached Syrian airspace on Friday morning. They hit a “military target” near Palmyra. In retaliation the jets were targeted by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, which shot down on Israeli plane over “occupied ground.” Following the breach of the country’s airspace, the Syrian Army warned Israel of “direct” retaliation “with all means at its disposal,”
The Israeli Army stressed that none of the IAE planes was harmed. “At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF [Israeli Air Force] aircraft compromised,” an Israeli military spokesman said.
DEBKAfile’s military sources add: The big T4 Syrian air base is located near Palmyra. If that was indeed the target of the Israeli raid, it would have been the northernmost point in Syria ever attacked by Israeli warplanes.
The fact that fragments of the Arrow missile landed in the north Jordanian village of Anbata in the Irbid district, as revealed by social media, is added evidence that it was launched against a missile fired into Israel. Had the Arrow intercepted anti-air missiles in northern Syria, the fragments falling from the interception would not have reached Jordan or alerted rocket sirens close by in the Jordan Valley on the Israeli side of the border.
Furthermore, it is time to abandon the routine official attribution of any Israeli air strike over Syria as targeting an advanced weapons convoy heading for Hizballah in Lebanon. It is no longer credible. Following its intervention in the Syrian war, Hizballah maintains many military facilities, stationary and mobile, on Syria soil, geared ready for attacking Israel. The pro-Iranian Shiite group no longer needs to send convoys into Lebanon. Its advanced weaponry is housed in permanent bases in the western Syrian towns of Zabadani and Quseir.
In recent weeks, in fact, Hizballah is busy digging deep underground storage pits to hold those advanced weapons systems outside those towns. According to some reports, they are also digging vast tunnels to funnel troops and hardware linking those pits to Lebanon.
The fog of battle still hangs over Friday’s episode. But it was serious enough to mark an escalation in Israel’s military involvement in Syria. This in turn exacerbates the risk for Israel of impending clashes with the Syrian army and Hizballah, under the direction of Iran.