Syria threatens Israel with ‘more surprises’

After weekend flareup in which F-16 downed, senior official says Damascus is not as defenseless as the ‘aggressor’ thinks

Israeli soldiers survey the border with Syria from a military post in the Golan Heights, following a series of aerial clashes with Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria, on February 10, 2018. (Flash90)
Israeli soldiers survey the border with Syria from a military post in the Golan Heights, following a series of aerial clashes with Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria, on February 10, 2018. (Flash90)

A senior Syrian official warned Israel on Tuesday that it would face “surprises” if it launches any attacks on his country, claiming the Jewish state mistakenly thinks Syrian forces are incapable of defending the country.

“God willing they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria,” assistant foreign minister Ayman Sussan said at a press conference in Damascus, according to Reuters.

“Have full confidence the aggressor will be greatly surprised because it thought this war — this war of attrition Syria has been exposed to for years — had made it incapable of confronting attacks,” Sussan warned.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visits the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, February 13, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

His comments came as tensions between Israel and Syria exploded into a brief air clash over the weekend.

On Saturday morning, an Iranian drone was flown into Israeli territory, near the Jordanian border, where it was shot down by an IAF Apache attack helicopter. In response to the drone incursion, Israeli jets attacked the mobile command center from which it was operated, the army said.

During the reprisal raid, one of the eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets that took part in the operation was apparently hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed. The Israeli Air Force then conducted a second round of airstrikes, destroying between a third and half of Syria’s air defenses, according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, visiting the northern city of Kiryat Shmona on Tuesday, vowed that Israel “respond to any provocation.”

One of the lingering questions following the Israeli airstrikes was how Russia, Syria’s staunch ally and military backer, would react — specifically if Moscow would work to prevent future Israeli attacks in the country.

“There are no limitations. We are not accepting any limitations. We acted with determination and with responsibility,” Liberman said.

He added that Israel was in contact with Russia and that the relationship “is effective, even when we don’t agree.”

The White House has expressed support for Israel’s retaliatory military strikes in Syria and called on Iran to “cease provocative actions” in the region.

View of the remains of an F-16 plane that crashed near Kibbutz Harduf on February 10, 2018. (Anat Hermony/Flash90)

According to unconfirmed reports, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes on the Syrian armed forces and their allies since the civil war broke out there in 2011. Before the weekend clashes, the most recent such incident was on February 7 when a military position near Damascus was bombed.

Israel has maintained a public policy of limited intervention in the Syrian civil war. The prime minister and senior defense officials have said that the country only takes action in Syria when a “red line” is crossed, generally meaning in retaliation to deliberate or accidental attacks on Israel from southern Syria or when advanced weapons are being transferred to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group.

There have, however, been reports of additional Israeli actions that do not appear to have been in response to a violated “red line,” including in attacks against suspected chemical weapons facilities.

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