Russia informed Israel ahead of its Wednesday airstrikes — the first it carried out in Syria — targeting rebel strongholds there, Israeli officials said.
About an hour before the aerial bombardment near Homs, Moscow contacted several senior Israeli officials, including National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, to apprise them.
The advance notice was in keeping with an understanding reached between Israel and Russia last week, aimed at avoiding accidental confrontations between the two countries in Syrian airspace.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a September 20 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow “established a mechanism” to “prevent misunderstandings between IDF forces and Russian forces” operating in the war-torn country.
Israel has been watching warily as Russia has ramped up its military support to Syria to bolster the Bashar Assad regime, some of which Jerusalem fears may reach the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, which is hostile to the Jewish state. Israeli officials have warned that Hezbollah agents have used the fighting in Syria as cover to build up forces along Israel’s Golan Heights border with the intention of carrying out attacks.
Israel has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria over the last several years, reportedly targeting the Iranian-backed Hezbollah cells and weapons shipments.
Putin said Wednesday’s action was preemptive, warning that Moscow would be hunting down Islamic State militants before they target Russia.
“The only correct way to fight international terrorism… is to act preemptively, to battle and destroy fighters and terrorists on the territories they have already seized, not to wait for them to come to us,” he said in televised comments.
The Russian defense ministry said Moscow had launched targeted air raids against the “terrorists” in Syria.
A Syrian security source said the warplanes hit three provinces.
The strikes came as Putin and US President Barack Obama push rival plans on ways to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria and on the future role of the country’s embattled leader Assad.
A US defense official said Wednesday that Moscow also gave Washington a heads-up prior to the strikes in Homs.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the bombs killed at least 30 jihadists, including 12 child soldiers.
The strikes are Moscow’s first military engagement in a distant theater of war since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Putin is seeking to muscle his way back onto the world stage after months of Western isolation following Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and support for a separatist insurgency in the east of the ex-Soviet country.