Moscow: Reports Israeli jets intercepted over Lebanon are ‘amateur nonsense’

Moscow: Reports Israeli jets intercepted over Lebanon are ‘amateur nonsense’

After its warplanes said to confront F-16s, Russia’s Defense Ministry says it doesn’t operate in Lebanese airspace

An Israel Air Force F-16, December 31, 2015. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90/File)
An Israel Air Force F-16, December 31, 2015. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90/File)

Moscow on Monday dismissed as “amateur nonsense” reports that Israeli warplanes were intercepted by Russian fighter jets over Lebanon early Monday morning, claiming that its aircraft don’t operate in Lebanon’s airspace.

Unconfirmed Lebanese reports said that two Israeli Air Force F-16 planes were challenged by Sukhoi Su-34 jets over Tripoli and forced away. They were cited by Israel’s Hadashot news and by Russian news outlets.

“The information spread by one of the Israeli news outlets about an alleged ‘interception’ of two Israeli F-16s by a Russian Su-34 in Lebanese airspace is amateur nonsense,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to Sputnik.

“The Su-34 multi-role bombers, which belong to the Russian air group in Syria, are not used for flights to intercept aerial targets and do not perform tasks in the airspace of Lebanon,” the statement continued.

The reports said that the rare incident occurred despite an understanding in place between Moscow and Jerusalem to avoid conflict between the two countries. There has been no official confirmation from Russia or Israel.

Video circulated of the Russian planes flying over Lebanon, but the clip did not show any Israeli jets.

According to the reports, the Russian planes may have been taking part in drills off the coast of Lebanon and Syria but were forced to land due to bad weather conditions.

Al Masdar news said it was the first time in months that Russian planes had entered Lebanese airspace from Syria. The news agency said the reason for the mission was unknown.

Israeli jets reportedly often fly over Lebanese airspace conducting reconnaissance missions. Reports have also said that many of Israel’s attacks on targets in Syria have been launched from Lebanese airspace.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had no reason to believe the Kremlin would try to limit Israel’s freedom of operation in the region.

In light of the heavy Russian presence in Syria, Israel in September 2015 set up a mechanism with Moscow — involving work groups led by the deputy chiefs of both militaries — to avoid conflicts and potentially fatal misunderstandings.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 9, 2018. (SERGEI ILNITSKY/ AFP)

However, a senior air force official stressed that this system was limited: Israel does not inform the Russians before conducting airstrikes in Syria, nor does Russia let the Israelis in on its plans.

Since this Russo-Israeli understanding was reached, Israeli officials have stressed the distinction between this particular understanding and full military cooperation.

“Cooperating is not the right term. We do not coordinate [with Russia]. It’s about deconfliction and security measures, so they don’t harm us and we don’t harm them,” a senior officer said recently.

Israel has acknowledged carrying out several aerial raids on Iranian targets in Syria, and is suspected of carrying out several more. The most recent was last week, when a military airbase in western Syria was hit in an airstrike.

“We told the Russians that we were going to strike in Syria, but we didn’t tell them where we exactly were striking or what the targets were,” the officer said.

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