IDF denies Israeli plane shot down in Syrian counterattack

Israel reportedly strikes pro-Iranian militia sites in Syria

Army investigating reports of projectile landing in Golan; explosions reported in and around Damascus, in southern Syria and along highway to Beirut; IDF mum on strikes

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: Flames rising after an attack in an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, released by Syria's official news agency on May 9, 2018. (SANA, via AP)
Illustrative: Flames rising after an attack in an area known to have numerous Syrian army military bases, in Kisweh, south of Damascus, released by Syria's official news agency on May 9, 2018. (SANA, via AP)

A number of pro-Iranian militia bases and Iranian weapons caches in southern Syria were targeted by Israeli airstrikes on Thursday night, according to the Al-Arabiya news site.

Explosions were also reported in and around the Syrian capital of Damascus, near its international airport, which Israel claims has been used by Iran to supply terror groups with advanced weaponry.

According to the Kremlin-backed Sputnik new site, blasts were also heard near the town of al-Dimas, along the Damascus-Beirut highway, which may indicate that an arms shipment was targeted in the alleged Israeli strikes.

“Israeli forces bombarded for an hour positions in the southern and southwestern suburbs of Damascus as well as in the south of Syria at the border of Quneitra province,” the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on Thursday night’s reported airstrikes, but denied a Russian media claim that an Israeli plane had been shot down.

“The reports of an Israeli aircraft or other Israeli aerial platform being hit are false,” the army said in a statement.

Once a regular occurrence, reports of Israeli airstrikes in Syria have become increasingly rare in the past two months, after Syria accidentally shot down a Russian spy plane during an Israeli raid, which Moscow blamed on Israel.

Despite the strained relationship with Russia, Israeli officials maintain that the IDF continues to operate in the country. However, many defense analysts suspect that Russia — with the advanced air defense systems it has in Syria — may be curbing Israel’s ability to rein its arch nemesis Iran’s military presence in the country.

According to the official Syrian SANA news outlet, the country’s air defenses fired at several of the incoming “enemy” projectiles, shooting down some of them. Military sources told the state-run outlet that the airstrikes had “failed to achieve any of its objectives.”

Many analysts believe that Syria sometimes falsely claims to have intercepted missiles that successfully penetrate its air defenses.

The IDF said it was investigating reports of a projectile landing inside Israeli territory, on the Golan Heights, potentially the remnants of a Syrian surface-to-air missile.

“An aerial defense system identified a single launch toward an open field on the Golan Heights. At this point it is not clear if there was indeed an impact in our territory. Troops are searching the area,” the army said.

Syrian state television aired footage of interceptor missiles being fired into the air south of Damascus.

According to Syrian media, some of the incoming strikes were aimed at the al-Kiswah area, which was bombed by Israel in the past for allegedly containing Iranian military bases.

The rest of the targets were not immediately known.

Israel has conducted hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria in recent years. However, this has slowed in the past two months following the downing of the Russian plane.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, Thursday was the first time Syria’s air defenses had been called into action since Syria accidentally shot down a Russian spy plane and the 15 people on board during an Israeli raid on September 17.

Moscow blamed Israel for the incident and supplied Damascus with the advanced S-300 air defense system — something it had previously refrained from doing following requests from Jerusalem.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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