Israeli and Jordanian jets together confronted Russian warplanes in January over southern Syria and warned them away from crossing their shared border, King Abdullah of Jordan told American lawmakers.
The Russian warplanes were attempting to survey Israeli defenses in the Golan Heights, according to a report by the Middle East Eye based on Abdullah’s briefing to members of Congress on January 11.
Abdullah didn’t meet with President Barack Obama during his brief visit to Washington, with the White House citing “scheduling conflicts” as the reason. The key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State met, however, with Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“We saw the Russians fly down, but they were met with Israeli and Jordanian F-16s, both together in Israeli and Jordanian airspace. The Russians were shocked and understood they cannot mess with us,” the Hashemite king was quoted saying.
Israel and Russia set up a hotline in October, two months before the reported incident, to prevent clashes between the two air forces after Russia deployed military aircraft to Syria in a bid to help prop up the flagging forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The January incident precipitated cooperation by Jordan and Israel to keep the Russians in check. Abdullah said IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot contacted him and asked him to speak to the Russians, and the king met Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in Amman.
“We discussed an idea on how to keep the Russians in their place,” Abdullah said.
Abdullah said that in subsequent talks with Russia about operations in southern Syria, Amman spoke to Moscow “on behalf of Israel,” the report said.
At the same time, Abdullah charged that Israel was “looking the other way” to the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front’s presence in southern Syria because they consider the Sunni group “as an opposition to Hezbollah,” a report in the Guardian quoted the king saying. Jordan, he said, seeks to eliminate al-Nusra Front’s presence along its border with Syria, while simultaneously prop up the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, whose fighters are trained in Jordan.
Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia, is a key ally of Assad. It’s Israel’s sworn enemy and has attempted to gain a foothold in the Golan Heights opposite the demilitarized zone from Israel in recent years.