On Tuesday afternoon, Russia summoned Israel’s ambassador to Moscow to its foreign ministry for clarifications. Earlier, Russia stated that the incident constituted deliberate provocation by Israel, which endangered Russian lines, and that Moscow reserved the right to respond. In response, in a very rare turn of events, Israel acknowledged the strike, expressed sorrow over the loss of Russian lives, made plain that it blamed Syria for the downing of the Russian plane, and gave details of what had played out
The escalated friction in Israel-Russia ties, however, is not the only unusual aspect of this attack. The location of the targets that were struck was also out of the ordinary — and, again, this is because of the Russian connection.
The port city of Latakia is considered to be Syria’s main port city, the center of Bashar Assad’s Alawite Islamic sect, and a symbol of the survival of the Assad regime. Beyond this, however, it is also marked by a significant Russian presence.
The Russian air base Hmeimim, which is considered the most important in the country, is located nearby, to the south. Russia maintains several rings of protective anti-aircraft missile defenses around the base. This area was adjacent to the targets struck overnight.
Therefore, for Israel to have struck at targets in Latakia, the targets must have been critical. And indeed, the IDF, in its Tuesday statement, specified that the target was a Syrian military facility that manufactured “accurate and lethal weapons,” which were “about to be transferred, on behalf of Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Syria, for its part, said the target struck was a subsidiary of its defense ministry, known as the Organization for Technical Industries, which has suspected ties to the country’s chemical weapons and missile programs. “These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it,” the army said.
Unusual, too, was the very nature of the strike, at least according to initial information. First reports suggested that planes or unmanned drones had carried out the attack. Soon after, there were reports that it was carried out from the sea.
On Monday Syria accidentally shot down the Russian plane, killing all 15 crew members, when its air defenses swung into action against an Israeli strike. The Russian defense ministry blamed Israel, saying the IAF jets used the Russian plane as cover. However, Putin later told reporters that the downing of the plane by Syrian air defenses was a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”