Israel Strikes Deep in Syria After Missile Targets Israeli Air Force Planes Over Lebanon

Israeli reconnaissance planes flying over Lebanon come under rare fire from Syria ■ Israel updated Russia hours ahead of visit by Putin's defense minister

FILE PHOTO: Smoke and fire fill the the skyline over Damascus, Syria, early Sunday, May 5, 2013 after an alleged Israeli airstrike.
FILE PHOTO: Smoke and fire fill the the skyline over Damascus, Syria, early Sunday, May 5, 2013 after an alleged Israeli airstrike. AP

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The Israeli army attacked an anti-aircraft battery in Syria, near Damascus, Monday after it fired a missile targeting Israel Air Force planes.

The attack was prompted by the launch of an SA5-type missile at Israeli reconnaissance planes. The Syrian missile did not hit its Israeli targets but the Israel Defense Forces decided to hit the battery, the army said.

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The army targeted the battery with four bombs and, according to the IDF, the battery was damaged to the extent it was no longer operational. The army said the battery targeted was the same that fired at Israeli jets last March, prompting Israel make use of its Arrow anti-missile system for the first time.

The Syrian military warned of "dangerous consequences" following the rare strike, claiming that they successfuly hit an Israeli jet during the strike. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the strike, saying that "today they attempted to hit our planes," calling the incident "unacceptable." He added that "if anyone attempts to harm us, we will harm them back."

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Israel believes Syrian forces fired out of assumption that the Israeli planes intended to attack. The Israeli army spokesperson told reporters that the planes were instead on a reconnaissance mission in Lebanon, photographing sites for Israeli intelligence.

"The Syrian regime is responsible for any firing from its territory. We see this incident as a clear provocation and we will not allow it," said Ronen Manlis, an IDF spokesperson in a briefing with reporters.

"If anti-aircraft fire is being carried out for any military activity, we will respond as we did now," he said.  

The Syrian missiles were fired at IDF planes on a routine photographic mission that flew into Lebanese territory, an area under the protection of Syrian missiles. The Israeli army says that they are prepared for the possibility of Syrian retaliation, but do see the incident is an escalation.

Before striking Syria, the IDF says it notified Russia of its intentions. The attack comes hours before Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu will arrive in Israel for an official and he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is hosting him.

In September, the Israeli military struck a chemical arms plant in in Syria, foreign media reports claimed at the time. The Syrian army general command confirmed in a statement the attack on what they called a military facility, and said that two people were killed and extensive damage was caused. Israel refused to comment on the reports.

Israel has attacked convoys bringing arms to Hezbollah and groups on several Israeli fronts dozens of times over the last five years, a top Israeli military commander confirmed for the first time two weeks ago.

The number of Israeli attacks on such convoys since 2012 is approaching triple digits, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, the outgoing commander of the Israel Air Force, told Haaretz.