Russia summoned the Israeli Ambassador to Moscow Gary Koren to provide clarifications Friday, less than 24 hours after Israel struck targets in Syria, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement explaining the reasoning behind the operation.
Moscow is heavily involved in Syria and strongly supports the regime of President Bashar Assad. Assad’s forces fired missiles at the Israeli jets overnight after the latter struck what Jerusalem said was a weapons convoy destined for the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group.
Israel’s Channel 2 news reported Saturday night that Moscow was particularly concerned because the Israeli strike was close to areas where Russian troops are deployed.
Netanyahu said Israel would continue to target weapon convoys.
“Our policy is very consistent,” he stated in a Hebrew language video released to the press. “When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah — when we have the intel and the operational capability — we act to prevent it. That’s how we’ve acted and how we will continue to act…and everyone needs to take this into account. Everyone.”
Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow on March 9, where they discussed the situation in Syria.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry earlier sent two letters to the UN secretary-general and to the director of the UN Security Council calling the strikes a violation of international law, of UN resolutions and of Syrian sovereignty.
Syria called on the UN to “condemn the blatant Israeli aggression that is considered a violation of international law.”
The Israeli military said its aircraft struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the jets. One incoming missile was shot down by an Arrow defense battery, while two more landed in Israel, causing neither injury nor damage.
Assad’s army said the Israeli strikes were conducted to support “[Islamic State] terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations,” the statement read.
It also claimed it had shot down an Israeli warplane and hit a second one, assertions Israel said were false.
The firing of missiles from Syria toward Israeli aircraft is extremely rare, though Israeli military officials reported a shoulder-fired missile a few months ago.
Jordan, which borders both Israel and Syria, said parts of the missiles fell in its rural northern areas, including the Irbid district. The Jordanian military said the debris came from the Israeli interception of missiles fired from Syria. Radwan Otoum, the Irbid governor, told the state news agency Petra that the missile parts caused only minor damage.
Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.
The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a US-led coalition striking Islamic State and al-Qaeda targets.
Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations.