Israel has doubled its overflights in Lebanese airspace thus far in 2013, compared to the previous year. This move, according to sources in the United Nations force stationed in southern Lebanon on Monday, may point to imminent potential maneuvers against Syria.
In one particularly unusual recent incident, on March 14, “some 25 Israeli jets — a mix of F-16s and F-15s in four separate flights — [flew] north up the coast of Lebanon before turning south just short of Tartus in Syria,” according to a UNIFIL source quoted in a Lebanese Daily Star report Monday. Israel also reportedly flew seven drone missions over areas of southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, where Hezbollah has a strong presence, on March 13 and 14.
The unprecedented scope of the overflights “could have been a training exercise to target Syrian coastal radar and air defense systems” in what could be considered “a muscle-flexing gesture to let Damascus know that the Israeli Air Force is primed for action,” the UNIFIL source said.
Israeli aircraft have routinely overflown southern Lebanon since Israel’s withdrawal in 2000, but recent months have seen increased activity amid the worsening Syria crisis and growing concern over the fate of Damascus’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Israel has repeatedly warned that Syria could transfer weapons of mass destruction to Hezbollah, and has indicated that it would not hesitate to prevent such a scenario with military force.
In late January, an airstrike reportedly carried out by Israeli warplanes near the Lebanese-Syrian border targeted a shipment of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah.
Lebanon has repeatedly complained to the United Nations over what it termed Israeli violations of its sovereignty.