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Report: Israel used Turkish base to strike Syria

Russian media says Ankara assisted in attack on arms depot in Latakia; Turkish foreign minister denies claim

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An Israeli F-15I fighter jet. (Tsahi Ben-Ami/ Flash 90)
An Israeli F-15I fighter jet. (Tsahi Ben-Ami/ Flash 90)

A report in the Russian media Monday claims Israel Air Force jets took off from a base in Turkey to launch a strike on a Syrian naval base in Latakia earlier this month that destroyed a warehouse full of anti-ship missiles.

According to the unconfirmed report in Russia Today, based on a single anonymous source, the planes flew from Turkey in order to remain outside of Syrian airspace and therefore avoid Syrian air defenses and air force.

The army declined to comment on the report.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denied the report, saying Turkey would never be a partner to such attacks, according to the Russia Today website.

Israel has not confirmed or denied involvement in the strike but unnamed American officials quoted in CNN and the New York Times fingered Jerusalem for the July 5 strike, which reportedly targeted Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles.

Both news outlets reported that Israeli planes carried out the strike, while a report in the Sunday Times, citing a “Middle Eastern intelligence source,” claimed an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine fired missiles at the site. 

The Latakia area sits some 50 kilometers from the border with Turkey, in a coastal area known as an Alawite stronghold loyal to embattled Syrian president Bashar Assad.

While Israel has been blamed for strikes near Damascus, which is less than 100 kilometers from the border, a flight from Israel’s north to Latakia would be much longer, and involve either crossing the breadth of Lebanon and a chunk of Syria or flying in a long arc over the Mediterranean.

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Syria’s air defenses, based on a Russian system, are thought to be among the most advanced in the region.

Ties between Israel and Turkey have been chilly since the Operation Cast Lead mini-war against Gaza in 2009 and worsened dramatically with the deaths of nine Turkish activists aboard blockade busting ship Mavi Marmara to Gaza the following year.

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized over the deaths, a move which was supposed to pave the way toward a normalization of ties. Israeli officials, however, have said Ankara still remains cold toward Jerusalem.

The use of a Turkish air base in the attack would mark a resumption of once-close military ties between the countries, but could prove embarrassing for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist administration.

Erdogan, who was once also a close ally of the Syrian regime, distanced himself from Assad following the downing of a Turkish plane near Latakia after it accidentally strayed into Syrian airspace.

Israel’s stated policy is to not allow advanced weapons to fall into the hands of south Lebanon Islamist group Hezbollah, and it has reportedly carried out at least three airstrikes this year on convoys carrying sophisticated weapons from Syria to Lebanon, once in January and twice more in May.

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