Israeli and Jordanian Jets Confronted Russian Warplanes on Syrian Border, King Says

'The Russians were shocked and understood they could not mess with us,' says Jordanian King Abdullah, adds that Jordan 'spoke on behalf of Israel' with Russia.

Russian warplanes taking off from a Syria airbase, earlier in March, 2016.
Russian warplanes taking off from a Syria airbase, earlier in March, 2016. AP

Israeli and Jordanian fighter planes jointly confronted Russian air force jets over the southern Syrian border, according to a briefing by Jordan's King Abdullah to senior members of the United States Congress.

The date of the confrontation was not disclosed during Abdullah's meeting in Washington on January 11. The incident was reported by Middle East Eye, who said it had seen an account of the meeting.

According to the report, the Russian planes were on a mission to survey Israeli defenses on the Syrian border. "We saw the Russians fly down, but they were met with Israeli and Jordanian F-16s, both together in Israeli and Jordanian airspace," Abdullah said.

"The Russians were shocked and understood they could not mess with us."

The incident triggered trilateral efforts to reduce the tension, during which Jordan often spoke "on behalf of Israel" when discussing missions related to the south of Syria with Russia," the king said.

Other activities included a mission to Amman by an envoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a meeting in Amman between Abdullah and the head of the Mossad.

"We discussed an idea on how to keep the Russians in their place," the king told the U.S. members of Congress.

The Israel Defense Forces spokesman refused to comment on the report, the MEE said.

Jordan and Russia subsequently agreed on the borders of their operations. ”We told Russia that we want to liquidate Nusra," Abdullah said, referring to the Al-Qaida affiliate in Syrian. "Russia asked that we give them their positions to hit them, but we refused, so we don't give them a reason to hit the FSA [Free Syria Army] there."

Abdullah said that the Russians were warned that “one bullet across the agreed border in the south, and all gloves are off.”

The joint efforts to reduce tensions were successful, except for an incident in which Russian bombers hit Nusra near the ceasefire line agreed with Moscow: "We over-reacted, so they got the message," Abdullah said.

The situation was different in the north of Syria, where "Russia was hitting everybody," Abdullah said. After the Russians argued that they were not getting targets, Jordan gave them specific coordinates it had received from the U.S.

Abdullah said Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to launch air strikes in Syria came in response to a plea to Moscow from the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

"The Russians were shocked about how weak the Assad regime was and they felt suckered in," the king said. "So Putin needs a way out. Putin lost a passenger plan and a fighter jet, so he has a timeline where he needs to get out.”

Asked about what motivated Putin and whether he was seeking to become "king of the world, regaining Russian glory," Abdullah noted that the threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS) came up in all his discussions with Putin and that whatever problems terrorism posed in Europe, it was 10 times worse for Russia because of the number of Russians and nationals from former Soviet countries fighting in Syria. 

Asked about Putin’s influence on Assad, Abdullah replied: ”If Putin asks Assad to jump, Assad will ask how high.” He noted that when Putin summoned Assad to Moscow, the Syrian leader went alone and without advisers.

Abdullah claimed that Assad was now in a weaker position and more ready for a transition after inviting both Iran and Russian forces into Syria.

He said Turkey wanted Assad to leave immediately, while others wanted his departure in 18 months.

He said that if there was not any progress within two months of a ceasefire, the opposition would become frustrated and start fighting again and Putin, as an ex-KGB agent, understood that.