Israel has continued strikes in Syria since Russian plane downed – official

Despite September incident that Moscow blamed on Jerusalem, coordination with the Kremlin said to remain the same

Smoke rises near the Syrian village of Kafr Ain in the southern countryside of Idlib province after an airstrike on September 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Anas Al-Dyab)
Smoke rises near the Syrian village of Kafr Ain in the southern countryside of Idlib province after an airstrike on September 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Anas Al-Dyab)

Israel’s military has continued attacking targets in Syria even after a Russian spy plane was shot down last month and sparked anger in Moscow, a senior Israeli official said Monday.

“The army’s coordination with the Russian army continues exactly as it did before the incident,” the official said in a briefing, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Moscow blamed the September 17 incident, during which Syria destroyed a Russian Il-20 survey aircraft, killing 15 Russian servicemen, on Israel, arguing that Israeli jets were hiding behind the Russian plane. Israel denies that claim.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in early November at a summit in Paris, but the meeting has not been finalized, the official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on October 28, 2018. (Oded Balilty / POOL / AFP)

Netanyahu has reiterated several times that Israel will continue to act to prevent Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and the smuggling of advanced weapons into Lebanon. But the senior official’s comment appeared to be the first public acknowledgement that Israel has indeed carried out strikes in Syria after the downing of the Russian plane.

Last week, Hadashot TV news reported that Russia was seeking to reset the terms of Israeli military operations in Syria and overhaul the existing Jerusalem-Moscow coordination system.

Russia insists that it receive further advance warning of Israeli strikes, the TV network said, though the report did not say how much. Israel usually informs Russia minutes before an airstrike.

Such a demand would likely limit Israel’s freedom of maneuver in Syria, with the report noting it could endanger Israeli aircraft and allow Iranian operatives more time to hide materiel being targeted.

A senior diplomatic source quoted in the report said the demand was unacceptable operationally and that Israel must not acquiesce to it.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with officers from the IDF’s Southern Command on October 16, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman rejected the reported demands.

“We will not accept any restrictions on our freedom of operation, and when it comes to national security, we will take action,” Liberman told Army Radio.

He indicated that Israel has carried out more airstrikes in Syria than have been attributed to it by foreign media.

“Just because the media did not report on Syria strikes does not mean there were none,” Liberman said. “I don’t think it’s our duty to report what the army must do. An army needs to act.”

The developments come a month after Moscow announced it would supply Syria with the S-300 air defense system following the plane’s downing.

Last week, a satellite imaging company published photos it said show four S-300 batteries deployed at a newly constructed site near the northwestern Syrian city of Masyaf, where Israel has reportedly carried out raids on targets allegedly tied to Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Satellite photos released by ImageSat International on October 24, 2018, which are said to show a site near the northwestern Syrian city of Masyaf where Russian-made S-300 air defense systems were deployed. (ImageSat International)

The Israeli Air Force has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years against targets linked to Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, who Israel says are working to establish a military presence there that could threaten the Jewish state.

Like Russia, both Iran and Hezbollah are fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the Syrian civil war.

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

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