Israel on Friday dismissed a claim by the Syrian army that it shot down an Israeli warplane and hit a second one as they were carrying out predawn strikes near the famed desert city of Palmyra.
“Our air defense engaged them and shot down one warplane over occupied territory, hit another one, and forced the rest to flee,” the Syrian army said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.
The IDF denied the allegation.
“We repeat, at no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF aircraft compromised,” an army spokesperson said in response to the claim, referring to a statement made earlier on Friday morning.
The Syrian military also vowed to use “all possible means” to confront attacks by the “Zionist enemy.”
Bashar 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.
According to the Syrian military, four Israeli jets were involved in the aerial bombardments near Palmyra.
This was at least the second time in six months that the Syrian military fired surface-to-air missiles at Israeli aircraft and claimed to have downed them.
In September 2016, Assad’s military launched two missiles at Israeli jets carrying out a bombing run in response to mortar shells that struck the Golan Heights as a result of spillover from fighting nearby.
“Our air defenses blocked the attack and shot down the military aircraft in (the southern province of) Quneitra and a drone west of Sa’sa” in the province of Damascus, said the statement carried by state news agency SANA at the time.
The IDF said then as well that “At no point was the safety of IDF aircraft compromised.”
On Friday, shortly after 2:30 a.m., the Israeli Air Force made a rare acknowledgement that it carried out several strikes on Syria overnight, but said that none of the ground-to-air missiles fired by Syrian forces in response had hit Israeli aircraft.
According to Arab media, the target of the IAF strikes was a Hezbollah weapons convoy.
After the strike, one incoming Syrian anti-aircraft missile was shot down with an Arrow defense battery, while two more landed in Israel, causing neither injury nor damage.
“Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles,” the army said in a statement.
The missiles were fired from eastern Syria by Bashar Assad’s military, traveling over Jordan and toward the Jerusalem area. They were apparently SA-5 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
Israel’s Arrow defense system is primarily designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, intercepting the weapons and their conventional, nuclear, biological or chemical warheads close to their launch sites.
Surface-to-air missiles are designed to detonate at high altitudes to bring down aircraft or other missiles, and so do not pose much of a threat to people on the ground other than the possibility of being directly hit by falling shrapnel or the remains of the missile.
Therefore, it was not immediately clear why the IDF used the Arrow against a SAM, possibly indicating a misidentification of the type of weapon being fired from Syria.
In the September incident, Israel did not deploy any missile defense countermeasures.
Then too, the Syrian military apparently launched the surface-to-air missiles after the Israeli raid, as the Israeli planes were on their way back to base.