Syrian media reported an Israeli air force attack Sunday, Nov. 1, after two sorties Friday night against Syrian army and Hizballah bases in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Lebanese border. The IDF declined to confirm or deny these reports. Syrian sources described a large number of Israeli airplanes as bombing a Hizballah unit based in the village of El Ain in northern Lebanon and the arms depot of the 155th Brigade of the Syrian army at Al-Katifa to the east.
The two targets are 70 km apart. So these air strikes must have targeted two key points along the Iranian arms supply route to Hizballah.
They also raise three important questions:
1. Did Israel’s Tel Aviv command center use the hotline to Russian headquarters to give Moscow prior warning of air strikes against Syrian and Hizballah targets, explaining that no harm was intended to the Russian military in Syria?
Hardly likely; the Russians would not be expected to tolerate Israeli bombardments so close to their own military enclave in Latakia province.
2. Did Russian surveillance planes and stations detect the approach of Israel’s bombers and decide not to interfere?
After all, Israel has turned a blind eye to repeated Russian air strikes in the last few days against rebel positions in the southern Syrian town of Deraa and Quneitra opposite IDF Golan positions. The two cases suggest a gentlemen’s agreement between Russia and Israel to abstain from interfering with each other’s air operations over Syria, so long as there are no direct clashes between the two air forces. This could easily have happened when Russian planes bombed Quneitra.
So is Moscow giving Israel enough aerial leeway to strike Iranian, Syria and Hizballah targets so long as there is no interference in Russian operations?
That too is unlikely because it would amount to permission for the Israeli air force to operate inside the anti-access/area denial bubble which the Russian air force has imposed over Syria.
3. Did the Israeli air force use electronic warfare measures to jam the tracking systems installed in Russian spy planes and air defense missile systems in Syria?
DEBKAfile’s military sources have this answer: Israel and Russia have been conducting a clandestine electronic contest for 33 years, since the memorable episode in 1982, when the Israeli air force destroyed in a single strike the entire Russian air defense missile system installed in Syria.
Since then, the Russians have worked hard to develop electronic warfare measures for gaining on the Israeli edge, without much success.
This was strikingly demonstrated in September 2007, when the Russian-made electronic tracking and warfare systems, which were the backbone of Syria air defense missile batteries, missed the Israeli warplanes as they came in to bomb the North Korean-built Iranian-Syrian plutonium reactor going up in northern Syria.
This lapse may have recurred in the case of the Israeli air sorties Saturday.