Russia Fired at Israeli Jets During Syria Mission in May, Gantz Confirms

'It was a one-off incident,' Gantz tells a conference when asked to confirm a report that a Russian-operated S-300 air defense battery fired at Israeli jets

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Israeli F-15 fighter jets over Tel Aviv, April 12, 2018
Israeli F-15 fighter jets over Tel Aviv, April 12, 2018Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP

Israel's defense minister said on Tuesday that its Air Force jets came under Russian anti-aircraft fire over Syria in May, but they missed their target, describing the confrontation as a "one-off incident."

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The disclosure, by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, came amid tensions between Israel and Russia over the former's condemnation of the Ukraine war and the latter's scrutiny of the Jewish Agency.

Having helped Damascus turn the tide of a more than decade-old civil war, Russian forces in Syria regularly turn a blind eye to Israeli air strikes against suspected Iranian-sponsored deployments and arms transfers.

But Israel's Channel 13 TV reported that, on May 13, a Russian-operated S-300 air defense battery fired on Israeli jets as they carried out a Syria sortie – without hitting any.

"It was a one-off incident," Gantz told a conference hosted by Channel 13, when asked to confirm the report. The Russian launch happened when the aircraft "were no longer around", he said.

The Russian embassy in Israel did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Israel's coordination with Russia over Syria is "a situation that is stable right now, I think", Gantz said. "But we are always reviewing this story as if we only just began it now."

Prime Minister Yair Lapid has warned that Russia's intention to dissolve the Jewish Agency "would be a serious event with repercussions on ties" between the two countries.

Lapid ordered the Foreign Ministry to devise a list of possible responses to Russia if it takes place. After a leak of those possible steps, several Israeli officials warned that such moves may lead to an escalation and ultimately undermine Israeli interests.

Lapid said on Tuesday it was willing to discuss the "legal issues" concerning the Jewish Agency's operations in Russia, stressing the "mutual interests" the two countries share. His remarks came after Moscow accused Israel leadership of taking an "unconstructive" approach since the Ukraine war began.

Russia's Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said Israeli officials were making "anti-Russian statements," suggesting that the bilateral relationship was harmed well ahead of Moscow's recent maneuvering to shut down the Jewish Agency there.

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