Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister has summoned Israel’s ambassador, Alexander Ben Zvi, to express Moscow’s concern over a strike on Damascus International Airport last week that was widely attributed to Israel.
According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Mikhail Bogdanov told Ben Zvi that Moscow is not pleased with the justifications offered by Israel thus far, and that it is waiting for additional clarifications “within the framework of the existing Russian-Israeli mechanism to prevent dangerous incidents in Syria.”
The attack damaged the runway and airport buildings, and disrupted the flow of humanitarian supplies to Syrian civilians, said Russia.
Bogdanov also stressed that Russia will not allow Syria to be turned into a theater of war between outside parties, and insisted that Israel respect Syria’s territorial integrity.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Over the years, Israel has repeatedly charged Iran with smuggling weapons and missile-improving systems from Tehran to its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah using flights via Syria.
Generally, relatively large weapons are thought to be smuggled via Syria on Iranian cargo airlines, which frequently land at Damascus International and the Tiyas, or T-4, airbase, outside of the central Syrian city of Palmyra. The weaponry is then believed to be stored in warehouses in the area before being trucked to Lebanon.
The Israel Defense Forces’ Arabic-language spokesperson recently alleged that the son-in-law of Iran’s assassinated Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was behind such operations on civilian flights heading to Damascus.
Last month, Avichay Adraee, the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesperson, accused Iran and Hezbollah of “endangering civilians” by smuggling “advanced weaponry” via civilian flights to Damascus. The weaponry Adraee was referring to was thought to be GPS components that are installed on locally produced missiles in Lebanon.
Israel realized its attacks until Friday’s strike had not prevented the transfer of Iranian weapon parts to Lebanon, according to military sources cited by Channel 12 news last weekend.
The report said Israel was thwarting some 70 percent of smuggling activities, and had decided to further ramp up its action, which included crippling the Syrian capital’s airport.
Syria’s Transportation Ministry initially said the airport would remain closed for two days after “some technical equipment stopped functioning at the airport.”
In a later statement, it said the airport would be closed for a longer period, citing “sizeable damage” to the runways and the second terminal building. On Sunday, the state-run SANA broadcaster published images of repair works.
The shuttering of the airport is preventing all cargo and civilian flights from Tehran — and elsewhere — from arriving for the time being. Most flights are now being redirected to Aleppo’s airport, and it remains to be seen if Iran will attempt to smuggle weapons there too, until the Damascus airport is repaired.
Satellite images published on Wednesday by an Israeli intelligence and imagery firm showed construction work at the airport. According to estimates by ImageSat International (ISI), the repair work — at a number of locations at the airport and adjacent military airbase — will likely last a number of days.
Israel has made no official comment on the incident, in line with its years-long policy. But in an apparent reference, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi said during a Sunday conference that in a potential war, “any national infrastructure that supports terror is a target for attack.”
Russia lashed out at Israel on Friday, saying it condemned the “vicious practice” of Israeli strikes on civilian infrastructure, which it said were “provocative” and “in violation of the basic norms of international law.”
Even before that unusually bitter condemnation, Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as it has increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies, which are largely controlled by Russia.
Still, Israeli officials have vowed to carry on the campaign to prevent Hezbollah and other groups on Israel’s northern frontier from arming themselves with advanced and accurate weapons, regardless of Russian disapproval or apparent Iranian attempts to circumvent Israel’s actions.