April 25, 2018

Russia, Syria blame Israel for deadly strike on Syrian air base.

An Israel Air Force F-15 flies overhead during an exercise in the Golan Heights on February 23, 2014. (Gu Ashash/Israel Air Force/Flickr)

In a rare move, Russia on Monday accused Israel of carrying out a predawn missile strike on an air base in central Syria that reportedly killed 14 people, among them Iranian nationals.

Dictator Bashar Assad’s regime also said Israel was behind the airstrike.

Israeli military officials refused to comment on the allegations.

“This is a very dangerous development. I hope at least that the US military and those of the countries participating in the coalition led by the United States understand that,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference Monday.

The United States and France officially denied carrying out the strike, which came shortly after both countries threatened to retaliate for a chemical weapons attack allegedly conducted by Assad in the Syrian town of Douma late Saturday.

The target of the reported airstrike was the Tiyas air base — also known as the T-4 air base — outside Palmyra in central Syria. Israel has previously carried out at least one explicitly acknowledged attack on the base, which it said was home to an Iranian drone program.

According to Russia, the strike was carried out shortly before 4 a.m. Monday by two Israeli F-15 fighter jets.

The Russian defense ministry said the Israeli aircraft launched eight missiles at the base from Lebanese airspace, five of which it said were intercepted.

Syrian television showed footage of the alleged Israeli missiles flying through Syrian airspace toward the base.

In a statement carried by the official Syrian news agency SANA, however, a military official source said eight of the missiles fired by the Israeli jets were downed by air-defense batteries, though some of them got through. “There are martyrs and wounded,” the source said.

The Lebanese military reported that in total four Israeli warplanes violated its airspace for approximately 10 minutes early Monday morning. This account does not necessarily contradict the Russian claim that two F-15 jets carried out the attack, as it is common for additional fighters to act as escorts for the bombers on such strikes.

Lebanon also reported that Israeli reconnaissance drones had been operating intensively along its Syrian border over the past three days, calling into question the claims that the reported strike was connected to the Douma chemical weapons attack.

While Syria has publicly accused Israel of conducting airstrikes against targets in its territory, Russia has mostly refrained from commenting on these attacks.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, at least 14 people were killed and more were wounded. Iranian nationals were listed among the casualties.

Moscow noted that no Russians were injured in the strike.

“According to a military source in Damascus, the Syrian Air Defense system was deployed from the Mezzeh Air Base after the jets entered Syria from Lebanon’s Beqa’a Valley,” Lebanese news site Al-Masdar News reported.

The Tiyas, or T-4, Air Base, outside of the Syrian city of Palmyra, which Israel claims is being operated by Iran and its Quds Force. (Screen capture/Wikimapia)

That is the route that Israeli jets generally take before bombing military targets in Syria, according to foreign reports.

Israel conducted an airstrike against the Tiyas base on February 10, after an Iranian operator working out of it flew an Iranian-made drone into Israeli territory, according to the army.

“Iran and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ special unit] Quds Force for some time have been operating the T-4 Air Base in Syria next to Palmyra, with support from the Syrian military and with permission from the Syrian regime,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement at the time.

Construction Minister Yoav Galant, a former IDF major general and a member of Israel’s security cabinet, would not comment directly on the attack, but reiterated the “red lines” that Jerusalem considers grounds for launching strikes.

“In Syria many forces, from various bodies and coalitions, are operating. Each one says what it says and denies what it denies,” he told Israel Radio. “We have clear interests in Syria and we set red lines. We will not allow weapons to pass from Syria to Lebanon, and we will not allow the establishment of an Iranian base.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also appeared to comment on the reported strike during a meeting in the Knesset, albeit in a roundabout way, saying the allegations indicated that Israel operated without limitation.

“I won’t comment on the security matter being attributed to us, but the fact that this morning they are attributing to us what they are attributing to us shows the independence of Israel in every way. The State of Israel presents an object of admiration for the entire world,” Erdan said, according to Israel Radio.

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, a long-time advocate of maintaining ambiguity about strikes in foreign countries, told Army Radio that the important thing is for Israel to abide by the “red lines” that it sets for itself, not to advertise its actions.

“There’s no need to run and tell your friends or to take responsibility. Whoever needs to understand will understand,” he said.

This image released early Sunday, April 8, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, shows a rescue worker carrying a child following an alleged chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

The missile attack followed a suspected poison gas attack Saturday on the last remaining foothold for the Syrian opposition in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. At least 40 people were killed, including families found in their homes and shelters, opposition activists and local rescuers said.

On Sunday, US President Donald Trump had promised a “big price to pay” for the suspected chemical attack.

After the airstrikes were reported, however, Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood said in a statement, “At this time, the Department of Defense is not conducting air strikes in Syria.”

Agencies and TOI staff contributed to this report.

Source: The Times of Israel

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