News Analysis: Syria no longer tolerates Israeli attacks by downing its fighter jet

News Analysis: Syria no longer tolerates Israeli attacks by downing its fighter jet
Sun Feb 11, 2018 08:42:48


The downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet by the Syrian air defenses indicates that Syria will no longer tolerate the repeated Israeli attacks on its military positions, analysts said.

It may not mean an escalation toward a fully-fledged war, but it's a message that Syria will no longer accept the hit-and-run attacks by Israel, which has repeatedly targeted the positions of Syrian forces during the past six years of the war, Maher Ihsan, a Syrian political expert, told Xinhua.

"It's not a message that we want war, but it's a message that next time you think about striking us, the response will no longer be mere condemnation, but actual retaliation," he said.

At dawn Saturday, the Syrian air defenses fired anti-aircraft missiles against Israeli airstrikes which targeted an airbase in the central province of Homs on the pretext that an Iranian drone was sent from the base and infiltrated the Israeli airspace.

Israeli media said an Israeli F-16 was hit and crashed in northern Israel by the Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, adding that the tension in northern Israel even made Israel briefly suspend flights to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.

Pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV in Lebanon said the Syrian air defenses destroyed 70 percent of the Israeli missiles launched against Syrian military positions on Saturday.

The downing of an Israeli warplane has created a precedent during Syria's nearly seven-year-long war, as the Syrian government always responded to Israel's military attacks with condemnation and retaliation vows.

The situation now has changed. "The Syrian response was different this time. It reflects the change in the rules of engagement, meaning that the Syrian side will no longer accept the Israeli infiltration and strikes on it," Ihsan said.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, a key ally of the Syrian army in the war, said in a statement that downing the Israeli warplane marks the beginning of a "new strategic stage that puts an end to the Israeli violation of Syria's airspace."

Brig. Gen. Haitham Hassoun, a Syrian military expert, told Xinhua that Saturday's developments mark a new beginning for the Syrian-Israeli conflict.

He said the downing incident was definitely a "shock" to Israel, which could either escalate or halt its violation of the Syrian airspace.

Osama Danura, a Syrian political expert and a member of the government delegation to the Syrian talks in Geneva, also said the Syrian response came after Israel's continuous attacks on it.

"It has two messages: the first is that the Syrian air defenses are now on a high-level readiness in comparison with previous years and the second is about the availability of the political will of the Syrian leadership, reflected by the victories of the Syrian army and its recapture of most of the Syrian areas," Danura told Xinhua.

The new development breaks the stereotype that Israel can violate any Arab airspace with impunity, he noted.

"Today marks the first time that an Israeli warplane has been shot down probably since the downing of an Israeli F-14 in 1986 over Lebanon," Danura said.

Gen. Yahya Suleiman, an expert in the strategic military fields, told Xinhua that as early as the second half of 2017, a strategic decision was made that any Israeli attacks will be retaliated instantly.

"The Israelis have only admitted the targeting of one warplane but the truth is that many warplanes were hit during today's confrontation," he said.

Suleiman, however, said he doesn't think the situation will escalate toward a full-fledged war, citing the internal crisis of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who could face trial on corruption charges.

Additionally, Israel knows that Syria or Hezbollah will not be alone in any confrontation because the "Axis of Resistance," which includes Iran, Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah, will unite in facing any Israeli threat to any part of the axis, the Syrian general noted.

Israel itself doesn't seem ready to escalate the situation.

An Israeli military spokesman said on Saturday that his country does not seek an escalation in the region.

"We are willing, prepared and capable to exact a heavy price from anyone that attacks us. However, we are not looking to escalate the situation. This was a defensive effort triggered by an Iranian act of aggression and we are defending our airspace our sovereignty and civilians," the spokesman was quoted by the New York Times as saying.

Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate Iranian presence in Syria or its support to Hezbollah.

But Syria's allied forces, mainly the Iranian-backed ones, slammed the Israeli claims that an Iranian drone was launched into Israel, saying the drones were sent to observe the movement of the Isis in the Syrian desert.

(Photo: The remains of an Israeli F-16 that crashed after coming under fire by Syrian air defenses on Saturday. Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

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